By Amber Dahl
Keith and Marcia Mitchell of Pine Street Inc. are well-known figures in the Montana excavation community. They have more than 50 years of combined experience, after all. You might have seen them at Montana811 excavation safety training sessions, which they’ve attended every year. One Call Concepts, Inc., reached out to the couple on behalf of Montana811 to talk about their respective careers, the importance of damage prevention, and changes to the industry. They spoke with me via phone out of their business office in Glendive. Keith wears a hearing aid due to years of working with machinery, and so Marcia acted as a facilitator and repeated his answers to me.
Well, we’re semi-retired. Keith technically retired 17 years ago, but people didn’t know that, so they still called him whenever something went wrong. We still have all our toys [equipment], so we go to work with whomever. Keith likes to dig, and he’s good at it. There are a lot of people that don’t want anyone else digging for them on their property. But we don’t do nearly as much as we used to do.
Getting Started in the Excavation Industry
Keith says he got started because he was “too dumb to know anything else.” He basically began his career when he came home from service in the Army. He started looking for a job and wound up in construction. That was back in 1962. In 1968, he and his brothers, George and Terry, bought their own company. They built it from the ground-up. I came onboard 1975. Then, 44 years later, here we are.
Rules and Regulations
Keith has seen the industry change quite a bit. When he first started, there were no rules. You could pretty much just do what you wanted to. There were no safety regulations. For instance, digging up the petroleum tanks. These days, we have to inert them with dry ice before we dig them up. There were absolutely no systems in place for damage prevention back then. Keith says, “The industry built the regulations by digging them.”
Nobody ever called unless they had a broken line! But we’re fortunate to have never experienced any digging disasters with our own crew. One time, a tornado came through and tore the shop down, but that was the only experience we ever had with a major disaster. We did learn one thing from that: God loves Harley Davidson motorcycles. We had seven cars in the shop, and one motorcycle at the end. The cars all got hit, but that bike didn’t get one scratch on it. It didn’t even tip over.
I joined the company 44 years ago. When I met Keith, the way it started out was that the wives were a second crew. You’d call the unemployment office, and nobody would show up, so the wives and sisters learned how to do a whole lot of things to fill those roles. I learned how to dig too, and learned how to drive a truck. Otherwise, I was more or less on the grass seeding crew. We used to work on abandoned mine reclamation, so I did a lot of work on seeding crew. Or the gofer – I was the official gofer on a lot of stuff. Whenever something broke, I’d take it to wherever it had to go to get fixed and bring it back. Things like that. I guess you could say my favorite machine was the John Deere 690 excavator, and the guys would tease me about “going out to play with Marcia.” So, I went out there and stenciled my name onto the counterweight, and I told them they could call that machine whatever they liked, just know that I have achieved grace and beauty at 46,000 pounds. And yes, I can run Marcia.
I worried about Keith’s safety every day, especially when we were working on the mines, and if they were on fire. That was very stressful. In addition to working with Keith, I worked as a cashier for Albertson’s for 39 years. On days when I wasn’t working [at the store], I’d come down to the mines and do whatever I could to help. You’re always really glad to see them come home at night. When I was at the store, it was terrible, because that was back when we didn’t have cell phones. So, it was nice to see them all come home and know that everything was okay. We never had any major injuries of any kind. We were lucky, and God took care of us. Keith says it was a lot of common sense and the fact that we didn’t rush anything.
How 811 Improved Safety
Keith says 811 improved safety by a hundred percent, and it’s getting better all the time, in spite of what people might say. It’s a very good thing. We won’t stick a shovel or a tooth in the ground without it.
Never Missing an Excavation Training Session
We’ve gone to every training class since they started doing them in Montana, and I don’t really remember when that started, but we’ve always gone. It’s important to us because it refreshes your mind on the safety factors, new regulations in the system, and sometimes they can show you some pretty graphic reminders of why you do call. Keith says, “If you’re not learning how to improve yourself, you’re going backward.” But you know, they show those explosion films and things like that, which jog your memory and reaffirm why you do what you do. Our crew was always family, and so that was very important to us, too. We wanted to make sure everybody got home safe.
Keep up the good work! And Keith says that if anyone doesn’t call 811, take their license. There’s just too much at stake if you don’t.
By: Lareina Taing, Marketing Communications Specialist
From January-March 2019, Montana 811 is hosting FREE one-call excavator trainings throughout the state. These events are designed for professional excavators, contractors, and member utilities to learn about the one-call system, safe excavation, and understanding their rights and responsibilities under the updated Montana One Call Law. We will also cover studies of previous excavation accidents and how they could’ve been prevented. Feel free to ask any questions and make comments during these trainings. Whether you attend a morning or evening training, we will provide a meal. There will be two presentations:
This training will cover:
Locate Marks- Documenting and Maintaining
This training will cover:
7:30 am - Breakfast Starts
8:00 am- Excavator Training
9:30 am - Locate Marks Documenting
5:30 pm - Dinner Starts
6:00 pm - Excavator Training
8:00 pm - Locate Marks Documenting
*Registration on Eventbrite is required for the excavator trainings.
Go here to see dates/times and register for an excavator training near you: http://bit.ly/2S8i1zv
Save February 20-22, 2019 for the Montana Association of Registered Land Surveyors (MARLS) Conference! The MARLS “is a statewide organization of professional land surveyors licensed to execute land surveys in the State of Montana and dedicated to improving the quality of professional land surveying and land records in the state.”1 Attend the educational sessions during the conference to learn how to make your land surveying procedures safer and better.
Clint Kalfell, Montana 811 Program Coordinator and Trainer, will be hosting a damage prevention presentation at 3:15pm on February 22 to review the safe digging process. Come and learn about the underground infrastructure and the dangers of contacting a buried utility. Tell us what you think about how we can improve our internal processes to better serve our users. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have, and learn about what steps you can take towards underground damage prevention.
MARLS Conference Details
When: February 20-22, 2019
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton,
27 North 27th Street
Billings, MT 59901
Early bird registration ends on Feb. 6. Go here for registration information: http://bit.ly/2R7ICYS
Save March 5-7 and 26-28, 2019, for the annual 2.5-day Billings and Kalispell Spring Water Schools! These events are designed for both entry-level and experienced water operators and managers. They feature an array of water and wastewater related topics, ranging from wells and lagoons, to process control of water treatment and activated sludge facilities, and onsite and industrial wastewater systems. A few other topics include preventive maintenance, safety, and current regulations. Nick Pericich, Montana Utility Coordinating Council (MUCC) Secretary/Treasurer with the City of Bozeman, will be presenting in Billings, while JP Gordon, MUCC President with NorthWestern Energy, will be presenting in Kalispell, both on behalf of Montana 811.
Billings and Kalispell Spring Water School Details
When: March 5-7, 2019- Billings
March 26-28, 2019- Kalispell
Where: Billings City College
Health Sciences Building
3803 Central Ave
Billings, MT 59102
Kalispell Flathead Valley Community College
Arts & Technology Building
777 Grandview Dr.
Kalispell, MT 59901
Pre-registration ends on Feb. 19 for Billings and March 12 for Kalispell. Go here for registration information: https://bit.ly/2UjhjfS
Check out the Montana 811 event calendar for information on other events here: http://bit.ly/2ElRfKB
Take advantage of these valuable educational opportunities. Getting buried public utility lines marked is the first step toward excavation safety. Attend these events to learn more!
By: Lareina Taing
Montana 811 consistently strives to promote the message of safety to all stakeholders. Winter often brings severe storms and frigid temperatures. Stay safe and healthy by planning ahead. No matter how many Montana winters you’ve endured, keeping these important tips in mind will help you get safely through this winter:
Work Safely Outside
Prepare Your Home
Prepare Your Car
Traveling During Winter
Sources: Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Go here for more information: http://bit.ly/2RiWOyX
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Go here for more information: http://bit.ly/2TPRViI
By: Lareina Taing
Private underground facilities, also called customer-owned facilities, may be found anywhere, including your excavation site. Operators of lines buried in the public right-of-way must register with Montana 811 (MT 811), so these lines will be marked as the result of a locate request. Privately-owned facilities, like utility lines that serve heaters for hot tubs, gas barbecues, electric security lighting, invisible dog fences, farm taps, buried sprinklers systems, and many others, are not marked when locators respond to your MT 811 request, since they are the owner’s responsibility. Let's take a look at some common types of private underground facilities.
Energy-related private facilities include:
2. Natural Gas can fuel grills, pool heaters, yard lights, or heaters in outbuildings like sheds, garages, and barns. Natural gas may travel through a “master meter” to a residential building. As a general rule, natural gas facility operators will mark underground gas lines only from the main to the meter, making the lines on the “other side” of the meter a private facility.
3. Electricity can also be supplied to a “master meter” to power multi-resident properties, such as trailer parks, town homes, or apartment complexes. These lines may connect outbuildings like garages, sheds, and barns to a source of power. Remember that the electric operators usually only mark the power lines up to the meter.
4. Farm Taps are private natural gas lines. All the equipment from the outlet of the meter (usually, but not always, located near the pipeline) to the house, corn dryer, milk house, or barn belongs to the landowner and will not be located. Farm taps support many farms, and as farms have expanded, adding more houses and buildings to the original farmstead, private lines attached to a single tap have increased in number.
Some other types of private facility lines are underground sprinkler systems, data communications cables, fiber optic lines, septic systems, and waste collection lines, among others. In agricultural settings, drain tile and irrigation lines are often buried.
If you are installing private facilities, consider doing the following:
• Prepare maps of any new facilities.
• Bury tracer wire with the new facilities.
• Use above ground markers or signs to indicate the buried facilities.
If you are a land-owner or a professional excavator digging on private property, there is a good chance that there are private facilities in your work area. Protect yourself by investing the time necessary to determine if there are private utility lines buried in your area of excavation. Look for above-ground warning signs such as a “master meter” or “farm tap” and any former colored marks or flags and contact whomever installed the lines to determine if any current records or maps exist of the area. Remember that a good excavator is also a mindful detective and investigator!
*You or the owner of the property may have to contact a private locator to get these lines marked. Click here for a list of private Montana locators: http://www.montana811.org/private-locators.html
By: Lareina Taing
After filing a locate request with Montana 811, make sure to wait two full business days to get your underground utilities marked before you break ground. After the standard waiting period has passed, remember to check the status of your locate ticket by going to www.montana811.org and clicking on the white button named “Search and Status of a Montana Locate Ticket.” If all affected facility operators have responded, what’s next? You should dig using hand tools, vacuum excavation, or a non-invasive excavation method within the “tolerance zone”, the 18” area on either side of an underground utility plus the width of the utility itself.
Because location markings are approximate, the exact position of buried lines may vary from the marks. That’s why excavators should maintain a minimum horizontal (side to side) clearance of 18 inches between an unexposed facility and the cutting edge or point of any power-operated excavating or earthmoving equipment. For example, if the markings indicate a 20” pipe is buried and the minimum clearance is 18” on both sides of the facility, the entire tolerance zone is 56” wide (18” + 20” + 18”). See below for a visual example of the tolerance zone.
Remember that the depth of an underground facility may vary due to installation practices, frost, erosion, and other factors. Any depth readings given by a locator, if given at all, are only estimates, and the excavator is still responsible to safely expose the facility without damage.
Careful digging within the tolerance zone is an important step in the damage prevention process. Protect yourself, loved ones, and the environment by always hand digging or practicing non-invasive excavation methods in the tolerance zone. By doing so, you will have peace of mind knowing that you’re helping to protect vital underground infrastructure!
By: Lareina Taing, Marketing Communications Specialist
With over 58 million acres of farm land in Montana1, you’ve probably seen signs of the annual fall harvest. With thousands of miles of underground pipeline in the state, it’s nearly inevitable that underground pipelines will run through or near farm land. Erosion, frost, root system growth, and other factors, will change the depth and position of utility lines. These facilities can be buried just a few inches below the surface, so even small excavating projects can result in damages. Exercise caution and prevent damages by always following the safe digging process for all agricultural excavations.
Remember that private underground lines you may own such as farm taps and geothermal loops are not marked by utility companies. Protect yourself and invest some time to determine if there are private utility lines buried in the area of excavation. If so, you may have to contact a private locator to get them marked. Stay safe and “click or call” MT 811 before you begin harvesting this year!
1Source: Farmland Information Center. Click here for more details. (https://www.farmlandinfo.org/statistics/montana )
By: Lareina Taing
Education is the key to locator success. Founded in 1999, Staking University (Staking U) established the first year-round training program to educate and certify locators on locating equipment and best practices. Contacting Montana 811 (MT 811) to get utilities located is the first important step in the safe digging process, making it essential for locators to learn how to provide complete and accurate locate information.
On September 19-20, 2018, Staking U will host a Locator Certification Seminar (LCS) at North Western Energy in Billings, MT. The LCS will include classroom and outdoor presentations intended to teach Montana locators:
Click here for a complete LCS class syllabus. (link here with http://www.locatingunlimited.com/PDFs/LCS_Outline.pdf )
The Staking U campus is located in Manteno, IL, where it hosts 22, 5-day Campus Classes and six, 2-day Locator Certification Seminars (LCSs) every year. In addition to hosting classes in Manteno, Staking U conducts approximately 25 LCSs off-site. Different utilities, one-call centers, and municipalities across the nation host these off-site classes. Staking U also teaches customized onsite trainings at their customer’s locations. Their customers range from distribution utility companies to military bases and government agencies.
Due to the hands-on nature of these courses, Staking U recommends smaller class sizes of 10 to 15 students for a personalized experience. Participants have the opportunity to locate various types of utilities by using up to 15 different brands of instruments, which broadens their equipment expertise.
North Western Energy
1944 Monad Dr.
Billings, MT 59102
Class runs from 8:30am-4pm
$695 per person
411 South Evergreen St.
Manteno, IL 60950
During past LCS courses, I’ve gathered insight from two Staking U Instructors on why attending this educational opportunity is beneficial for all locators. Paul Larkin, a Staking U Course Instructor, has worked in the locating industry for over 20 years. Paul has worked for Staking U for over 12 years. He believes that it is important for locators to attend an LCS because “knowledge is the key to damage prevention. [Locators] have to be able to understand the instrument and what it's trying to tell them. In other words, they need to know how to differentiate good (accurate) information from bad (inaccurate) information.”
Since 2013, John Foster has been an Instructor for Staking U at their Hemet, CA campus. He has over 30 years of experience in pipeline construction and underground pipe and cable locating, including work in the U.S. and abroad. As an experienced professional in the field, he believes that “it's important for locators to receive this training to understand field work and the theory of electromagnetic locating. Many locators only receive limited training from their company or from the sale representatives. When you learn that different frequencies will do different things, where to apply the knowledge you receive, and how to be certain of accurate markings, this can truly boost the confidence of the locator.”
It is often said that locating is not a science but is instead an art. Developing an understanding of locating equipment and the information it provides is essential to mastering that art. That’s not the whole picture, however, because damage prevention is a shared responsibility. We all have to do our part to keep everyone safe and underground lines in service. That’s why it’s so important to contact MT 811, so that we can notify the affected facility operators, and they can dispatch their locators to mark your utility lines before you dig!
To learn more about Staking U, click here. (link here with http://locatingunlimited.com/ )
By: Lareina Taing
Planning on starting a garden over Labor Day? Want to install an outdoor fire pit on Thanksgiving? Keep in mind that after filing a locate request with Montana 811 (MT811), you must wait two full business days, excluding weekends and holidays, before you begin digging. The day you call DOES NOT count towards the standard two-day notice. Plan ahead when digging over a holiday, since you will need to wait additional time for the underground utilities to get marked in your proposed digging area. When a holiday listed occurs on a Saturday, the preceding Friday is not considered a business day. When a holiday listed occurs on a Sunday, the following Monday is not considered a business day. See the graphic below for the list of holidays that MT811 observes.
Labor Day will fall on a Monday, so if you call on the Friday prior to the holiday, the Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will not count towards the standard two full business day notice. Tuesday and Wednesday will be the actual waiting period for the locate request, so digging can commence on Thursday. If you plan to dig over this holiday, make sure to “tap, click, or call” at the very latest on the prior Wednesday, so that you can officially start digging on Saturday.
MT811 is open 24/7, 365 days a year, so they will take locate request tickets on holidays and weekends, but keep in mind that the day of the call will not count due to the holiday, so the next day will be considered as the day of the call. For example, if you decide to file a ticket on Labor Day that falls on a Monday, Tuesday will be registered as the first day, so it will not count. Wednesday and Thursday will count towards your waiting period, so the first day digging can begin is Friday. See below for a visual example of the waiting period timeline. Keep in mind that holidays will alter the waiting period as indicated in the examples above.
Remember to always check the status of the underground utility markings before beginning work to make sure that all affected utility companies have responded to the ticket. When you check the status of your ticket prior to digging, you will have the peace of mind knowing whether it is safe to break ground. Buried utilities are located everywhere and can be located near the surface. Don’t take your chances by not checking the status of your ticket. It’s easy! Look for your ticket by clicking the grey “Search and Status” button on the MT811 website home page here: http://www.montana811.org/
Prepare your plans to dig ahead of time to avoid any disruptions and additional waiting time. Stay safe and always “tap, click, or call” before all digging projects, large and small!
By: Lareina Taing
School is out and warm weather is here! Kids love digging outside, whether to make mud pies or to dig for treasure, so it’s never too soon to teach them about 811. The lesson of underground utility safety should begin early. Elementary age youth are more impressionable and “rule embracing” than students entering upper grades. Teaching young children about 811 provides an opportunity to influence attitudes and behaviors while they are still being formed.
Educational tools and resources are available for the next generation of diggers to start learning today. The Common Ground Alliance (CGA), an organization dedicated to protecting underground utility lines and the safety of people who dig near them, has created a variety of kid-friendly educational materials to help teach youth about the 811 message and why it’s so important.
The CGA created an 811-themed pirate video and supporting tools to provide kids with a fun introduction to 811 and the importance of protecting our resources below ground. The toolkit can be directly downloaded from their website, or the video can be found on YouTube here: https://bit.ly/2sfMnk1
The CGA also created a Community Service Award that recognizes young adults from organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, FFA, etc. for following safe digging practices when they conduct a community service project that involves putting shovels in the ground. The Community Service Award overview document includes helpful information including how to contact local 811 organizations, ordering materials, and awarding recipients, which can be downloaded here: https://bit.ly/2rLeXKg For the complete list of kid’s safety tools available via the CGA, click here: https://bit.ly/2rMWQ6K
Another great 811 resource for kids is “The Adventures of Burnie & Earl” collection of educational tools, which follows best buds Burnie, a natural gas flame, and Earl, an oil drop, on their encounters with the petroleum industry. Through their adventures, Burnie and Earl entertain and educate the public about safety, friendship, and having fun. Burnie is a carefree character who jumps head first into projects. Earl is more cautious. He supplies the voice of reason and is always eager to tame a situation. Earl often finds himself telling Burnie, "You've got to follow the rules!"
Burnie and Earl have an educational coloring book, an 811-activity app, and a “Dig It” music video that all help to educate youth about underground utility damage prevention. The coloring book contains games, coloring, and fact sheets, while the app allows users to help Burnie and Earl build their dream pool with two interactive, educational games. There is a utility flag game, which allows you to experience what it’s like to be a professional locator and a card matching game that tests kids on what the color-coded flags placed in the ground represent. All three educational resources can be found here: http://www.burnieandearl.com/
Take a moment to educate a child on the 811 message. Kids who understand the importance of safe digging are better prepared to make critical decisions that will help ensure the protection of Montana’s underground infrastructure for years to come!
An 811 Activity Coloring Book is also available for download on the Montana 811 website: https://bit.ly/2J04chX
By: Lareina Taing, Marketing Communications Specialist
The busy digging season is underway! Montana 811 (MT811) reminds everyone of these important points as they consider starting any outdoor digging projects:
1. Chances are, you’ve heard the MT811 “Tap, Click, or Call Before You Dig” message and already know that preventing underground utility damage is free and easy. Did you also know that it’s the law?
The Montana Excavation Law, Montana Code Annotated Section 69-4-503, states “Before beginning an excavation, the excavator shall notify, through a notification center, all owners of underground facilities in the area of the proposed excavation.”
For full text versions of the law, click here: https://bit.ly/2IeUjwa
2. Before you contact MT811, remember to outline your proposed excavation area with white paint or flags. By doing so, you decrease your chances of delayed locates and potential errors. When the utility companies mark their lines, you have the peace of mind of knowing if your project plan conflicts with the location of buried lines.
3. You may contact MT811 up to 10 days in advance of your project start date. Your ticket will remain valid for 30 days after the stated start time. After that time passes, you must contact MT811 to update your ticket and get lines remarked.
4. Private facilities are NOT marked when you contact MT811. Unless the owner of the facilities participates as a member of MT811, privately or customer-owned facilities will not be notified or marked. These types of facilities can be found everywhere. Examples include private water systems, data communication lines, underground sprinkler systems, gas or propane distribution lines, and many others. Protect yourself and invest some time to determine if there are private utility lines buried in the area of excavation. If so, you may have to contact a private locator to get them marked.
5. File a locate request online or call MT811 at least two business days in advance, excluding weekends or holidays, before digging. Always check the accuracy and completeness of your description. Make sure to include the specific type of excavating you are doing on your request.
Homeowners and excavators can file online locate requests 24/7 via ITIC on your phone/computer here: http://www.montana811.org/
You can also call us at 811 or 800-424-5555 to file a locate request in all of Montana except for the Flathead and Lincoln counties. (Important Note: There is no hold time when you file a ticket online!)
For locates in the Flathead and Lincoln counties, call 811, 406-755-8344, or 800-551-8344.
6. Always check the status of the underground utility markings before beginning work. Did you know that it’s easy to check the status of your ticket before you excavate? Look for your ticket by clicking the grey “Search and Status” button on the MT811 website home page here: http://www.montana811.org/
7. Respect the marks. Do your best to maintain the paint lines and flags left by locators. Stop excavating and contact MT811 if you can no longer see the marks because they are obscured or destroyed by job site traffic, weather, or other interferences.
8. Be mindful of the tolerance zone when beginning excavation. Hand dig 18” from both sides of the marked utility (see graphic below).
9. Use the proper excavating tools and techniques. This can make all the difference when completing your project. Examples include choosing shovels with durable fiberglass handles and keeping the shovel head perpendicular to the ground when digging.
10. Feel free to contact us with any questions, suggestions, or input you may have!
You can contact Clint Kalfell, the Montana Representative, directly at: 406-442-3070 or clint.kalfell@Montana811.org
With these tips in mind, you are set for a successful excavating season. As always, stay safe and contact MT811 before you plan to dig!
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