When you think of summer, what comes to mind? In this part of the country, there are a few things that just about everyone will say right away—sunshine, time at the lakes, and construction. While the first two are said with grins and a sense of relaxation, depending on the speaker’s line of work, there’s a good chance that the last one is uttered with a furrowed brow and a frustrated tone.
Navigating through miles of road work every summer is a cultural event in our region, but from the time the ground thaws in the spring to when it freezes in the fall, all forms of construction are in high gear. Oceans of orange cones and barricades might as well be on postcards from North Dakota and Minnesota, but an entire rainbow of colors decorates empty lots and ditches during the warm months.
The colored flags and paint on the ground are part of the underground utility locate process, and they’re a critical piece of construction projects of all sizes. From building a deck to widening a major roadway, the colored marks indicating buried water, sewer, gas, communications, and electricity lines are vital for ensuring safety and service reliability.
As one of dozens of utilities operating in southeastern North Dakota, Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) is responsible for thousands of locates every year. In fact, last year, CCEC received 19,865 requests for underground locates—a whopping 12 percent of all locate requests in the state of North Dakota. The vast majority of these requests are submitted between April and October. For Amy Mahlum, CCEC’s lone cable locator, that means there’s never a dull moment all through spring and summer.
Mahlum receives all locate requests requiring CCEC’s attention, and she doles about 75 percent of them out to Citi Lites, a third-party locating contractor. Mahlum handles the other 25 percent—typically more complicated requests—on her own or with the help of CCEC line crews.
Mahlum views the location and details of a request on her laptop before heading to the site. For many simple residential requests, Mahlum has a good idea of where CCEC’s lines are just by glancing at the lot but always verifies the location nonetheless.
Typically, Mahlum uses either a direct connection to lines at the transformer or induction at the service point on the structure to transmit a radio signal at a specific frequency to CCEC’s buried lines. This signal travels along the line and is picked up by Mahlum’s locator, allowing her to follow the line on the surface and mark it as she goes.
Once this is complete, Mahlum photographs her work before designating CCEC’s locates complete via the One Call ticket system, which shows the homeowner or contractor the utilities that are required to mark underground lines on the construction site and the status of the request.
North Dakota One Call (NDOC) law requires each utility company to provide and maintain information about their line locations or service territory in order to receive notifications prior to excavations.
Ron Ness, CCEC manager of system operations, represents the North Dakota electric industry on the NDOC board of directors. The NDOC board is comprised of nine representatives from the various types of utility companies, a representative for excavators and contractors, and two representatives for cities—one for small cities and one for large cities.
Each One Call center has its own dedicated staff. While some of the centers are operated by states, many are operated through a contracted vendor, such as One Call Concepts, which provides 8-1-1 services to several states, including North Dakota.
Just as each utility industry is a unique world of business and operations, so too is the process for handling requests to locate buried lines. Safety is the top priority at Cass County Electric Cooperative; always call 8-1-1 or visit ndonecall.com before you dig.