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The News Guard

Column: Call 811 before digging

By Jake Gilbertson News Guard Guest Column,


If you’ve ever been digging a fence post hole or installing an in-ground sprinkler line and hit something solid, chances are it’s something more than a pesky rock. In fact, there could be a major injury – or even worse – lurking beneath what looks like harmless soil.

With an early summer upon us, many Northwest homeowners and contractors are getting a head start on projects that involve outdoor digging or excavation.

That’s why NW Natural is emphasizing the importance of calling 811 to locate underground utility lines at least two business days ahead of starting any project that involves digging more than 12 inches deep. It’s the law, it’s free, and it’s the only way to know for sure where underground utilities lie on a property. This is especially important when considering natural gas lines, which can be installed no more than 18 inches deep.

In 2022, we responded to 13 incidents in Lincoln County where natural gas lines were damaged. This was among a total of 591 damages in NW Natural’s Oregon and Southwest Washington territory, including more than 442 that involved broken lines with escaping natural gas. You may recall earlier in the year when an electric line toppled and the power arc hit one of NW Natural’s underground lines. Our hope is to continue to reduce the number of damages in Lincoln County and the entire Pacific Northwest.

Nearly half of the damage-causing incidents to our utility lines happened because a homeowner or contractor didn’t call 811. That can be a costly decision; if someone is found liable for damaging a utility line, they may face a hefty bill for repairs and fines.

The good news is that damage to underground utility lines is preventable if you follow the right steps. Along with calling 811, the Online Locate Request tool is right at your fingertips. This is a free service available for homeowners and contractors from the Oregon Utility Notification Center, a state agency responsible for protecting excavators, the public, and underground utilities from damages, and is available at:

NW Natural has a team dedicated to educating contractors and residents about what they can do to prevent damage. As always, if you’re digging and smell natural gas, leave the area immediately, then call 911 and NW Natural (800-882-3377) to report the leak. And remember, no damage is too small to report, including gouges, scrapes and dents. Let’s all do our part and garden, build and dig safely this year.

For more information, visit

Jake Gilbertson is the Damage Prevention Specialist for NW Natural.

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