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The Latest Dirt - March 2023

Call before you dig?!

By Lisa Bramblet

An electrical box is found in the middle of the Rivertown Garden. Photo by Lisa Bramblet.
An electrical box is found in the middle of the Rivertown Garden. Photo by Lisa Bramblet.

Yes, that’s right. It's a good idea to find out what you may be digging into before you start. If your garden site has been occupied for 20+ years and there have been various projects conducted on the site (i.e. prior digging/trenching), it's by the grace of God no previous digging has severed a vital service line. The threat of doing so does loom large, especially, when in preparation for trenching, you peel all the mulch off the original crushed gravel paths, and you find a surprise "Electrical Box" right in the middle of the garden going goodness knows where! That's when you call 811.

Let’s take it one step at a time here. Did you know that there’s a law that you must call 811 before digging? Yes indeed, there is a confusingly written piece of law in the California Government Code (too many numbers to list but you can find it via the 811 pages). It will scare you into a corner about how you will dip a digging implement into the soil. It is important to find out where your possible underground hazards are – right?! Well, let’s see how this journey goes down the rabbit hole. Follow along.

So, 811 is engaged, and a ticket is produced. Four possible entities will check the site, and each must respond within a specified time limit. Since our site is behind two locked gates so calling for access is noted prominently in our instructions. The first two respond right away – no conflict.

Wow, awesome. The 3rd is the same, with no conflict. Seems quick and to the point but they must know if they have stuff on-site or not. The final entity says they could not access the site. They called, and they couldn't reach anyone. They couldn't see our project delineation markings, which you must access two locked gates to see. We won’t go into how neither myself nor the on-site contact got a call. We simply asked for a re-issue of the site check ticket from PG&E, the final entity, and the one we most need to hear from.

They call again, and we get a site review. And it makes no sense. They paint the ground in front of the garden. There is also a line of ominous red dots running through the garden. There is still that unidentified "Electrical Box" with wires running through it, as yet unaccounted for. So, a conversation is had with the PG&E reviewer. He lets me know that the line of dots is the last know "plan" they have in their files of where there was supposed to be electrical service. Unfortunately, his scanner didn't detect anything. Somehow, I didn't find this comforting. I ask about our mystery "Electrical Box," and he lets me know that it is privately installed and thus not under their review. So yes there are challenges to the Call Before you Dig law, and they don’t tell you about them. Well, that completes the journey with 811.

So, we are on to the next chapter and are preparing to engage a private contractor to map any underground services using ground penetrating radar. Safety is important, so we'll find out what lurks below the ground to avoid severing an electrical line, water supply, or who knows what else.

I'm sure 811 works great in many areas, like my mow strip next to the road at home where pretty much everything runs under. I know this as years of road construction near my house have generated a bunch of spray paint in the area. I know it can work out there, just not so much for us at Rivertown Garden Antioch.

We're looking forward to our private review so we can map out what is actually where and give our landlord the peace of mind that we're all safe and the site is workable. Here's a fun fact - the County Fair Grounds, where we're located, are property of the State of California, and the local building codes do not apply there. Records of work and improvements to the site are almost non-existent. In any case, we are taking steps to be good tenants and do the due diligence to define our space.