By Sarah Everhart
Having an irrigation system installed or another project at the farm involving excavation? Maryland law (Md. Code, Public Utilities Article, § 12-101, et seq.) requires that a landowner place a toll-free call (1-800-257-7777 or 811) or make an online registration (www.missutility.net) to the Miss Utility Notification Center at least 2 full business days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) notice prior to the day the excavation begins. Miss Utility then contacts the owners of underground utilities and coordinates with them to mark the location of any utilities which could be affected by the excavation.
The only exception to the law is for an excavation performed by an owner of a private residence if the excavation is entirely on private property and without the use of machinery. There is no exception for agricultural activities and given the widespread presence of underground cables, ag operators must be very careful not to excavate in violation of the Miss Utility law.
A person may begin excavation only after receiving notification from Miss Utility that the utilities have been marked or that there are no underground utilities in the vicinity of the excavation. If a utility is marked, a person shall expose the underground utility by hand or other nondestructive techniques and may not use mechanized equipment for excavation within 18 inches of the utility.
If an underground utility is damaged by a person who fails to comply with the law, the person is deemed negligent and is liable to the owner of the utility for the total cost of the repair unless the underground utility owner has failed to register with Miss Utility. In addition, a landowner who failed to contact Miss Utility is also subject to a civil penalty of $2,000 for a first time offense and $4,000 for each subsequent offense for the cost of the repair.
Excavation damage can cause injury, loss of life, and environmental damage. It also causes interruptions to vital services. Therefore, it is extremely important that all ag operators understand and follow the Miss Utility law before any excavations.