Underground protection agency celebrates milestone in Valley
NORTH JACKSON — A longtime statewide agency set up to protect underground gas lines and other utilities is celebrating a key birthday and milestone.
“We are the communications link between those who have a need to excavate and those who own, operate or maintain underground infrastructure in Ohio,” Roger L. Lipscomb, the Ohio Utilities Protection Service’s president and executive director, said.
Lipscomb was among those who attended an outdoor celebration and luncheon Wednesday at the OUPS’ office, 12467 Mahoning Ave., to celebrate the agency’s 50th birthday in the Mahoning Valley.
OUPS, also known as “OHIO811,” is under the umbrella of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. In addition, OUPS, established in 1972 in the Valley, is the nation’s third-oldest call center for safeguarding underground public utilities, Lipscomb noted.
OUPS is a nonprofit “private corporation, even though it performs public functions,” he said, adding that its members include a variety of municipal entities, government bodies, utility companies and others.
It’s vital that residents and businesses wishing to excavate on their properties call 811 before installing mailboxes, building decks, planting trees or performing other projects that require digging, Lipscomb explained.
After such a request is made to the proper utility company, a color-coded flag will be placed on the site to indicate what lies under the surface. The flags are in four colors: yellow for gas lines, red for electrical lines, orange for communications infrastructure and blue to indicate water lines, he noted.
In addition, property owners are responsible for having private utility lines properly marked, according to OUPS’ website.
Ohio Senate Bill 378 was passed in 2014 to provide a regulatory and enforcement mechanism to protect underground utility facilities.
Initial efforts will be made to educate and “change the behavior” of people who fail to comply via digging without proper notification, Lipscomb said. Those who continue to engage in such conduct could face fines between $2,500 and $10,000, he warned.
The event’s keynote speaker was Jenifer French, PUCO’s chairwoman, who also stressed the importance of calling 811 before performing anything that requires excavating.
In 2015, a 17-member advisory committee of industry experts called the Underground Technical Committee was formed to investigate complaints of possible violations and recommend actions that include fines and penalties for noncompliance, French noted.
“We saw the number of requests increase” and the amount of underground damage decrease, she said.
“We need (the OUPS) in our community; we must have this in our community,” state Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, added.
The gathering also included tours of a timeline that captures key events in the Mahoning Valley during the agency’s 50 years, as well as its major accomplishments. Tours of an educational and simulation trailer, along with an electrical trailer, also were available.