On November 7, 2018, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (“PUC” or “Commission”) Damage Prevention Committee (“DPC”) held its inaugural meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The DPC is a creation of Act 50 of 2017, which enhances Pennsylvania’s Underground Utility Line Protection Law (i.e., the “One Call Law”) to prevent accidental strikes.

Comprised of excavators, utilities, municipalities, and regulators, the DPC operates collectively to review incidents, identify what went wrong, and issue corrective actions (including penalties).  These review sessions are not legal proceedings and are essentially a measure to analyze mistakes and determine what actions will make accidental strikes less likely to occur.  The process for each review is as follows:

  1. The PUC’s investigator requests information from the project owner, facility owner, and excavator regarding the incident.
  2. The PUC’s investigator prepares a report and recommendation for the DPC.
  3. If the incident will be discussed at the meeting, the project owner, facility owner, and excavator receive written notice of the option to participate in the meeting.
  4. The PUC’s investigator provides the DPC with an overview of the incident and provides photos of the damage.
  5. The DPC asks each of the parties involved in the incident to explain what happened and what actions they took. The DPC prefers to hear directly from the parties, rather than from their lawyers.
  6. The DPC decides whether to issue penalties on any of the parties.

The DPC’s initial meeting revealed several key takeaways for utilities, excavators, and other entities:

  1. It’s important for any party served with a notice to appear before the DPC in relation to an incident to consider attending the DPC meeting to present that party’s side of the story and answer questions. Several DPC members noted their disappointment with parties that failed to attend.
  2. If any pipeline hit results in the release of flammable, toxic, or corrosive gas or liquid which endangers life, health, or property, then the excavator must immediately call 911 and notify the facility owner.
  3. The DPC considers whether the parties involved in the incident employed prudent excavation practices.
  4. It’s important that each party take clear photographs of the site where the strike occurred. With the availability of digital cameras, it may be advisable for excavators to take videos of the One Call Markings prior to beginning the project.
  5. It’s critical that each party record in writing any conversations with the other parties about the incident.

The next DPC meeting is December 11, 2018.  If you have any questions about the DPC or other Commission proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact Pam Polacek (ppolacek@mcneeslaw.com) or Aly Hylander (ahylander@mcneeslaw.com).