SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - If it seems you've been hearing a lot about broken gas lines, especially in San Francisco. you're right. The details on the amount, frequency and penalties for not dialing 811 before you dig are staggering. Those multi-colored marks you see just about everywhere on the streets these days mean business.
Hayes Street, bordering Alamo Square, home to San Francisco's fabled Painted Ladies homes, was closed Monday because a construction crew dug into a gas line, forcing the entree street to evacuate.
Every day, 365 days a year, PG&E averages almost 5 excavation dig ins that break gas or under ground electric lines instantly disrupting service. Nationally, this strikes utilities every three minutes.
The overwhelming majority of pipe and line punctures are caused by contractors or residents who either didn't know or care to call the free 811 service before digging. Once called, 811 will send a utility representative to mark, with colored coded paints, which kind of lines run where.
PG&E investigators, all with law enforcement backgrounds, such as Van Jackson, quickly respond to dig ins. "My job is to come in and look at all the factors associated with the dig in and how the damage occurred to our facilities," said Jackson.
The investigators interviews witnesses, takes measurements, and essentially reconstructs the scene and events and submits it to the company's clam division which will collect from the responsible parties. This way, rate payers won't have to pay for the damage. The average cost to the contractor or resident who digs into a line is $7,500. "It all depends on the type of service that is damaged and the amount of work that goes in to getting the repair," said Mr. Jackson.
With all the massive construction going on in San Francisco, you'd think that's a recipe for big dig ins. But, says Jackson, in reality it's really repairs and replacements of old infrastructure that cause the most trouble. "Sewer work or water work where contractors are doing work on behalf of the city and, you know, they're obviously putting in new infrastructure and sometimes their excavation techniques may cause them to dig into our facilities." Jackson says there are occasions when PG&E may have mis-marked a line's location bu that is why sometimes the contractor or resident is advised to use less distractive methods such as hand digging to locate the line before using something like a hydraulic backhoe.