Notification requirements for excavation, soil sampling discussed

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony March 12 on two bills that would amend provisions of the One Call Notification Systems Act.

Great Plains One Call Service is a system used by excavators to identify and locate underground facilities prior to excavation to protect the facilities from damage. A notice to the service center currently is required prior to performing an excavation or bar test survey.

Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier introduced LB589, which would exempt gas operators, pipeline facilities and excavators from the notification requirements if they are performing excavations or bar test surveys in response to an emergency gas or hazardous liquid leak. The operator would be required to give excavation notification as soon as practical, but such notification would not be required to precede the emergency excavation.

The service center may take up to two days to respond to a notification, Watermeier said, but emergency leaks may be dangerous and require immediate action.

Andy Pollock, representing NorthWestern Energy in Nebraska, testified in support of the bill, saying the current notification requirement causes uncertainty for utility companies responding to emergency pipeline leaks.

“The bill allows companies to take immediate action when there is a pipeline leak that presents a danger to public safety,” he said.

Rick Kubat, attorney for Omaha’s Metropolitan Utilities District, also testified in support, saying it would provide residential protection.

“When there is a natural gas leak, the first thing we want to do is ensure the safety of the residents in the area,” he said. “The bill helps [utility companies] with that process.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill.

The second bill, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, would limit the current notification requirement exemptions for agricultural tilling.

Under LB358, landowners, tenants or third parties who do not charge fees would be exempt from notifying the service center for soil tilling and gardening for agricultural seeding.

Since the 1994 implementation of the notification requirement, Dubas said, agricultural technology has advanced and farmers increasingly are hiring third parties to conduct soil sampling.

Pipeline explosions are devastating and costly, she said, so tilling agricultural land without knowledge of its underground line location is a real public safety concern.

John Lindsay, representing Northern Natural Gas in Omaha, testified in support of the bill, saying the notification exemption should be limited to landowners because they are familiar with underground facility locations on their land.

Ray Ward, owner of Ward Laboratories in Kearney, disagreed in his opposition testimony. Over 95 percent of agricultural soil samples are taken by crop consultants, he said, and often are more familiar with the land they are sampling than the farmers themselves.

Tim Mundorf, representing Midwest Laboratories, Inc. in Nebraska, also testified in opposition to the bill. More than 141,000 fields would have to be approved for sampling annually, he said, and the service center is not capable of providing adequate and efficient services at that level.

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.

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