Page 10 - Alabama 811 Magazine 2020 Issue 3
P. 10

A New Era of EWnforcement
hen Alabama’s Underground Damage Prevention Law was first passed in 1994, it included a provision that enforcement for violation would be handled by the Attorney
General or the District Attorney in the county where the violation occurred. In the twenty-six years since the law went into effect, there have been less than a handful of violations of the “dig law” that have actually been prosecuted. This
has led to a lot of frustration by underground facility owners and excavators who have repeat offenders who are not in compliance with the law.
Why has the law not been adequately enforced? The truth
of the matter is that both the Attorney General and the local District Attorneys want to enforce this law but there is a
lack of manpower. Other more potentially critical cases that they have to pursue and other factors have caused excavation damage or facility owner not locating far down on the priority list.
Due to an increase in third party damages across the US, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a department of the U.S. Department of Transportation,
began to look at damages to gas and pipeline facilities in each state and looked for trends for those states that had fewer damages. One of the key factors indicated that active and effective enforcement played a major role. But what exactly
is active and effective enforcement? It isn’t the same for every state. What was operational in Alabama definitely did not meet that definition. PHMSA charged the State of Alabama
to look to improve their enforcement of the underground damage prevention law or risk losing federal funding to the state pipeline safety program. A governor’s task force was formed several years back to look at several improvements in Alabama’s law and enforcement was one of those areas.
The task reviewed various state programs, and made the recommendation for a stakeholder panel to be developed as the Underground Damage Prevention Authority, who would be responsible for reviewing complaints filed for violation of the damage prevention law. This group was established in February 2020 and has spent time over the last months getting the Underground Damage Prevention Authority set up under the required state guidelines. The intent is to be able to accept violation complaints sometime in the last quarter of 2020.
The civil penalty provisions have been revised to hopefully help deter from voluntary violations of the law. The new civil penalties are as follows:
• 1st offense – complete a course of training or pay civil penalty not to exceed $500 per incident, or both
• 2nd offense within a 12 month period – complete course of training or pay civil penalty not to exceed $1000 per incident, or both
• 3rd offense within a 12 month period – complete a course of training AND pay a civil penalty not to exceed $3000 per incident
8 • Alabama 811
2020, Issue 3

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