New Construction Utility Responsibility

I want to shine a light on an area that does not receive a lot of attention, resulting in damages. Those are the newly installed underground utility lines. There is always a gap between the time they are built and installed until the time they are marked through the One-Call System. This gap has resulted in damages to these brand-new facilities because they were not marked after the a locate request submission. This gap is often caused by the official acceptance of those facilities by the final owner. If an existing underground facility owner commissions the new underground facility lines—whether it is a utility company, municipality, or water and sewer district—and involves only one type of facility, then the gap is smaller and does not last as long. There may even be cooperation between the design/engineering firm, contractor, and the final utility owner, indicating that they will provide locate ticket information so that someone, usually the contractor, can have someone mark out those new underground lines.

If those new lines are commissioned as part of new development, the gap is bigger and frequently involves multiple facilities. In a new development—commercial or residential—the developer will hire a design/engineering firm, then a general contractor. In these new developments, they will usually install public facilities, such as waters, sewers, and streetlights. These facilities will eventually be handed over to the city or municipality and accepted into their system Each of these facilities usually falls under different organizational departments, each with its own set of criteria, inspections, and protocols before they are accepted into their system and then located as part of that entity’s locating process.

Since this can take days or weeks for these acceptances to happen, who is responsible for marking and protecting those newly installed lines? I believe since the developer is that one that has started this process and is footing the bill, the ultimate responsibility lies with them. However, it probably is not reasonable for them to personally stay up on all day-to-day operations unless they are acting as the general contractor. So, the general contractor? What about the engineering firm? I would suggest that whoever is responsible for the monitoring is controlling the project and knowing the progress of the construction.

How can they know when excavation is taking place, and an area needs to be marked? Therein lies the problem. How can someone get that information? It seems like the current practice is to try to keep a vigilant watch over the construction area, know what underground facilities have been completed, and be aware when someone is about to excavate and talk with them. So, who pays for the damage caused by excavation when something is not marked?

As I hope you know,, the Montana One-Call System, is a member organization. Its members consist of many types of underground facility owners. They include, of course, the large public utility providers, like NorthWestern Energy, but they include municipalities, water and sewer districts, telecom companies, and even banks. (Essentially, anyone that has an underground line that they do not want damaged through excavation.) Anyone can join We have no membership fee to join, and you only get charged on a per-ticket basis. When an excavator calls the One-Call System—which they are required by law to do—the Call Center maps out the information in their system. The system compares the location against our members’ maps, which indicates areas where they have underground lines and want to receive excavation notifications. If they overlap the same area, the Call Center notifies the utility of the excavation, and the utility company is responsible for locating and marking those facilities according to the law and best practices. Those utility companies are charged a fee for each locate request or ticket they receive, which is what funds the One-Call System. Please keep in mind that the physical locating and marking of the line is the facility owner’s responsibility.

If a developer or general contractor wants to receive notifications regarding excavation within their project, they could join and receive these notifications. There is a cost, but I believe it would be a lot cheaper than having the down time and cost of repairs. Once those underground facilities are turned over to the final responsible party, the developer or general can stop receiving those tickets.

Other options include:

  1. If the work is for an existing underground facility owner, put in the contract that they will provide information on pending excavation and some marking arrangements.
  2. Contract with a 3rd Party ticket processing company that will set up a temporary excavation notification for your construction area or areas of completed facilities.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please contact Clint Kalfell, Program Coordinator and Training at or 406-442-3070.