Wallaces Farmer

You're supposed to call when taking soil tests, digging fence post holes and deep ripping -- but could the utilities keep up?

January 11, 2016

3 Min Read

You probably know that if you are going to dig footings for a building, you need to call North Dakota One-Call and have phone, power and pipelines marked before you start work.

But did you know you are also supposed call if you are digging a fence post hole? If you are taking soil probes more than 18 inches deep? How about if you running a deep ripper more than 18 inches deep?

In all those situations you are supposed to call One Call and the utilities are supposed to come out and mark their lines.

Marvin Nelson, a Rolla, N.D. ag consultant and state legislator, testified recently at a hearing about the economic impact laws have on citizens of the state.


“One Call is a very frustrating thing for us,” he says, “because it's not designed such that we can use it, but we are subject to fine of up to $25,000 for every field we don't use it on.”

Most farmers and ag consultants probably don’t call when soil testing, he says.

If they did, Nelson doubts if the system would work.

“It's not the One Call system itself,” he says, “It's the physical work required of the utilities that is the potential bottleneck.  And note it's pretty much just the phone companies.  Pipeline and power companies are taking a hard line of this but they have very little buried on a miles basis in the rural areas.  If soil testing is 2,000 locates a day and the average locate is 100 acres, that's many miles of locates. The phone companies will, if the soil testers use the system, be required to spend literally millions to mark their lines.  If they don't mark what's the use?  I believe in the west the companies pay about $75 per half mile to have normal locates done.  However the soil testing season would be more intense for a shorter period so costs would likely be higher. We estimate in the Red River Valley, that about 70% of the land area would need to be marked every year.”

Nelson says that if he doesn’t call One Call and damages a phone, pipeline or something else while soil testing, his liability insurance won’t cover him. He would personally be liable for damages. And he’d be subject to the fine.

“If there was a lot of damage, I’d probably out of business,” he says.

A good compromise would be for the utilities to email a GPS referenced map of where they lines are when an ag consultant or landowner calls in. That way they could avoid the lines. But utilities won’t publish the maps because they could be used by terrorists or vandals.

“The One Call system works pretty well for a guy digging a foundation in a town, but not so well for us in ag,” Nelson says.

He plans to submit a bill in the next legislative session to make One Call work better for agriculture.

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