When Do Contractors Need To Conduct Their Own Locates?

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | May 2011, Vol. 66 No. 5

“We have the ability to locate some utilities, particularly gas lines, as several of our gas distribution contracts require us to locate the customers’ facilities,” said Miller “but locating other types of utilities happens only on rare occasions. If we are digging on private property, we will try to locate water lines or small electric lines running to a barn or outbuilding, as the cost of making such locates and the consequences of missing them are not too significant. However, if the job is near anything dangerous, such as a primary or secondary power line, high-pressure lines of any type, or critical communication lines, we would hire a locator.”

For larger projects, such as bringing gas to a trailer park, the gas company probably would pay for the cost of necessary locates, and blanket contracts usually cover the cost of any locates that have to be made.

Locates to prevent crossbores of sewer laterals is another story.

“The debate continues over whether laterals are the responsibility of the utility or the property owner,” said Miller. “With most utilities taking the position that laterals belong to property owners, the locating responsibility ultimately falls on the contractor crew doing the project.”

In its work across the United States, Miller Pipeline has found no sewer system owners that provide accurate sewer lateral locates.

To make sure company crews do not inadvertently bore through a sewer lateral, Miller Pipeline personnel do their own lateral locates and inspections using several methods.

The basic procedure is to send a crew with a sewer camera to the job site before directional drilling begins. The two-man crew will operate the sewer camera via a remote-controlled tractor lowered into the sewer main which then tracks down the sewer, allowing inspection of sewer-lateral connections.

The process is expensive.

“Cost of equipment can be more than $100,000 per crew, significant training is required and the electronic equipment needs constant maintenance,” Miller said. “There are not many third-party companies that offer this service, so we have taken on the responsibility.”

Other methods
An alternative is to send an employee to each house in a project area to search for sewer clean outs. A fiberglass push rod with a locating beacon is pushed into the lateral, allowing crews to locate the sewer line all the way to the street, using a walk-over locator.