Transportation and Telecommunications

Homeowner notification prior to excavation considered

Excavators would be required to give notice to homeowners prior to breaking ground under a bill heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Jan. 25.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh

Current state law requires that excavators give two days’ notice to operators of underground utilities prior to an excavation to ensure that all underground utilities are located, also known as the one-call notification system. LB884, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would add homeowners to the list of those required to be notified. 

Under the bill, an excavator also would be required to notify the one-call center if a homeowner discovers damage or dislocation to an underground facility if reported within a reasonable time. Liability would be assigned to the excavator when damages are discovered. 

In addition, LB884 would add residential sewer planes to the definition of underground utilities covered by the one-call system. 

Cavanaugh said that private property owners sometimes bear the burden of repairing damages created when burying underground utilities, and homeowners insurance doesn’t usually cover a backed-up sewer.

“When the damage is caused by an excavator during the installation of a utility, there should be a means for a homeowner to work with the excavator to remedy the situation at no cost to the homeowner,” Cavanaugh said. 

Stephen Pflaum testified in support of LB884. In 2020, he said, an out-of-state contractor for Verizon drilled through his sewer lateral, causing his basement to fill with backed-up sewage during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. Current statute however, doesn’t cover such damage, he said.

“If damaging a private sewer line escapes penalty because it is discovered after the incident, what is the corporation’s financial motive to exercise duty of care?” Pflaum said. 

In opposition to the bill was B.J. Woehler, who testified on behalf of the National Utility Contractors Association of Nebraska. LB884 raises a legitimate concern regarding private residential owners’ need to know where their utilities are located, he said, but updating the one-call notification system is not the solution. 

“[For homeowners] to be able to mark for every excavator before work can be done would mean private residential owners would need to be held to the same standards as excavators or facility owners,” Woehler said. 

Also in opposition to the bill was Ed Jarrett, who spoke on behalf of ALLO Communications. 

“As a new utility company, if there’s proven fault, we are responsible for that damage no matter when it’s discovered,” he said. “I think that’s the need – to have the liability on the contractor or the utility company doing the work.”

The committee took no immediate action on LB884.

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