Miss Utility Cracks Down on Signs in Virginia

Real estate signs are a perennial problem/necessity/eyesore/requirement to market a home effectively … and now revenue opportunity for the SCC/Miss Utility.

You may have heard about Virginia’s Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act: It requires that Realtors® (and others) call the Virginia Utility Protection Service — aka Miss Utility — before putting up any sign that involves sticking something in the dirt, other than "coat hanger" signs.

Even putting up a typical spike sign is considered "excavating," and Realtors® or their sign companies who don’t first get the go-ahead from Miss Utility face up to a $2,500 fine. In fact, the SCC’s Division of Underground Utility and Railroad Safety originally prohibited even those coat-hanger signs; VAR fought for and won at least that concession.

The Code of Virginia referencing the full Utility Damage Prevention Act is here:

"Excavate" or "excavation" means any operation in which earth, rock, or other material in the ground is moved, removed, or otherwise displaced by means of any tools, equipment, or explosives and includes, without limitation, grading, trenching, digging, ditching, dredging, drilling, augering, tunneling, scraping, cable or pipe plowing and driving, wrecking, razing, rendering, moving, or removing any structure or mass of material.

So … if I dig a hole with my hands, will I be safe?

Maybe.

"Hand digging" means any excavation involving nonmechanized tools or equipment. Hand digging includes, but is not limited to, digging with shovels, picks, and manual post hole diggers, vacuum excavation or soft digging.

Hmmm …

My timeline for activating a listing just got a little bit longer.

A. Except as provided in subsection G, no person, including operators, shall make or begin any excavation or demolition without first notifying the notification center for that area. Notice to the notification center shall be deemed to be notice to each operator who is a member of the notification center. The notification center shall provide the excavator with the identity of utilities that will be notified of the proposed excavation or demolition. Except for counties, cities, and towns, an excavator who willfully fails to notify the notification center of proposed excavation or demolition shall be liable to the operator whose facilities are damaged by that excavator, for three times the cost to repair the damaged property, provided the operator is a member of the notification center. The total amount of punitive damages awarded under this section, as distinguished from actual damages, shall not exceed $10,000 in any single cause of action.

B. Except in the case of an emergency as defined in § 56-265.15, the excavator may commence work under one of the following conditions:

1. After waiting forty-eight hours, beginning 7:00 a.m. the next working day following notice to the notification center;

2. At any time, if the excavator confirms that all applicable operators have either marked their underground utility lines or reported that no lines are present in the vicinity of the excavation or demolition. The confirmation shall be obtained by contacting or receiving information from the notification center’s excavator-operator information exchange system; or

3. If informed by the notification center that no operators are to be notified.
If any operator fails to respond to the excavator-operator information exchange system as required by this chapter, the notification center shall renotify any operator of its failure. This renotification shall not constitute an exemption from the duties of the operator set forth in § 56-265.19.

C. The excavator shall exercise due care at all times to protect underground utility lines. If, upon arrival at the site of a proposed excavation, the excavator observes clear evidence of the presence of an unmarked utility line in the area of the proposed excavation, the excavator shall not begin excavating until three hours after an additional call is made to the notification center for the area. The operator of any unmarked utility line shall respond within three hours of the excavator’s call to the notification center.

D. The excavator’s notification shall be valid for fifteen working days from 7:00 a.m. on the next working day following notice to the notification center. Three working days before the end of the fifteen-working-day period, or at any time when line-location markings on the ground become illegible, the excavator intending to excavate shall contact the notification center and request the re-marking of lines. The operator shall re-mark the lines as soon as possible; however, the re-marking of the lines shall be completed within forty-eight hours from 7:00 a.m. on the next working day following the request for the re-mark. Such re-marking shall be valid for an additional fifteen working days from 7:00 a.m. on the next working day following notice to the notification center.

Update 04 August 2009:

WCAV picked up the story, and talked to Del. David Toscano – someone who might be able to actually help fix this. 🙂

Update 07 August 2009:

Tony comments on VARBuzz:

According to the SCC’s historical data since 1995 (which includes damage only to gas utility lines), on 49 reported occasions realty companies have damaged underground utility lines and on 23 reported occasions sign installation companies working for real estate companies have caused such damage.

That means only 72 cases in 14+ years. That is 5 per year. Using only Northern Virginia listings that would be about 50,000 listings per year. Now if we assume that half of all Virginia listings are in NOVA that would be 100,000 per year in the whole state. I think that is a conservative number. Now divide that by the 5 cases per year and you get 1/20,000 of 1%.

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4 Comments

  1. JWT August 5, 2009 at 05:43

    Jim,

    Has this been a problem in the past? If not, is there a reason to think signs of today or tomorrow are or will be more damaging than signs of the past?

    JWT

    Reply
  2. JWT August 5, 2009 at 05:46

    And by “problem” I mean have many utility lines been damaged in the past by real estate signs?

    Reply
  3. BretH August 5, 2009 at 07:05

    Nice backdrop 🙂

    Reply
  4. Dave Price September 1, 2009 at 19:07

    Just to set the record straight, “Miss Utility of Virginia” is the Virginia registered trademark of “Virginia Utility Protection Service, Inc.” (VUPS) headquartered in Roanoke, VA. We are a not for profit, 501c(6) corporation that is owned by the underground utility owners in Virginia. Our mission is “To operate a high performance organization composed of experienced utility operators, excavators, locators and State regulatory agencies, dedicated to providing a premier Damage Prevention Program to protect the utilities for the safety and benefit of the citizens within the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Miss Utility of Virginia is part of the nationwide network of “811” or “call before you dig” centers. We receive calls from “excavators” and send the information to the utility operators or their contractors who locate and mark the approximate location of underground lines that they own.
    Miss Utility of Virginia is not cracking down on signs. We are assisting Realtors® in notifying utility owners so that the sign installer does not put a metal sign through a buried electric line, which could be tragic. Our staff informs me that those of you who have called in the last few weeks have really been helpful in providing all of the information we are required by law to collect. Thank you!
    One last important point. Even though the law does require that you allow time for marking before installing signs, the wait time is flexible. If the utility owners are able to mark their line locations on the day of your call and you receive our Positive Response System Email telling you that all utilities have either marked their lines or that they have no lines in the area, you can proceed with your installation the same day.
    Know what’s below. Please call 811 before you install your sign.
    Dave Price, Director of Operations & Training
    Virginia Utility Protection Service, Inc.

    Reply

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