ESA Town Hall Discussions (May, June, and July)

How can SUE and Accurate Maps Be Used to Reduce Both Damages and Costs?

Moderator: Daniel Bigman, President, Bigman Geophysical
• Barbara Cederberg, COO, Gopher State One Call
• Ron Peterson, Executive Director, NULCA
• Brenda Reigle, Executive Director, NUCA of Pennsylvania
• Lawrence Arcand, President, 4Sight Utility Engineers
• Jim Anspach, Affiliate Assistant Professor, Iowa State University
• Nick Zembillas, CEO/MD, Subsurface Utility Engineering, LLC

On May 12, Infrastructure Resources held our second Excavation Safety Alliance (ESA) virtual Town Hall titled, “How can SUE and Accurate Maps Be Used to Reduce Both Damages and Costs?” As with last month’s ESA Town Hall titled, “Late Locates: Partnering with Notification Centers,” the goal of our ESA Town Halls is to give everyone in the industry a voice and to provide a forum to work together towards solutions to common problems. May’s ESA Town Hall brought in over 100 stakeholders to discuss Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) within the context of damage prevention. The panelists represented a variety of industry stakeholder groups including those within the One Call, Locating, Contracting, and SUE professions.

The Town Hall began with a discussion of how one would define SUE. Many of its aspects were parsed out over the ensuing 70 minutes, but Nick Zembillas started things off with defining SUE as a professional practice that encompasses three main professional disciplines which include civil engineering, geophysics, and surveying. Additionally, it was noted by Jim Anspach that SUE attempts to identify and document all utilities whether you know about them or not. This can be surprisingly challenging when 30-40% of utilities are not on record anywhere. Stakeholder Bill Kiger of Pennsylvania One Call emphasized that challenge by informing the other stakeholders in the chat that some lines in the northeastern United States date all the way back to the 1700’s.

The free-flowing discussion during May’s ESA Town Hall covered additional questions and topics, including:

• What companies or professional organizations are responsible for the SUE process?
• Does starting the construction process with SUE reduce the likelihood of utility damages?
• What is the relationship between SUE and utility locating?
• What role should professional organizations have in monitoring the practice of SUE?
• How do we define accurate maps? Who is legally able to create a map?
• What are the ASCE standards? What separates the different quality levels?
• Should every utility be buried with tracer wire?

Here are some notable quotes from our panelists:

Barbara Cederberg: “How do we tie the One Call ticket and the excavation area to be able to view the facility operator’s line data so that the excavators and the locators can see that data in real time and be more efficient when they’re locating and be safer when they’re excavating?”
Ron Peterson: “From my construction side, you give me good maps, good plans, and a good design, I can work more efficiently and not hit things.”
Brenda Reigle: “Having that detailed information will improve safety for our crews and for the public, and at the same time it will save the project owners’ money.”
Jim Anspach: “The key is if we do this early and communicate the data and their consequences on safety, schedule, and budget to the designers, those designers can make good decisions on avoiding utility conflicts altogether.”

Are You Prepared for the Infrastructure Bill Impacts on the Damage Prevention Industry?

Moderator: Jim Plasynski, CRO, KorTerra
• George Kemp, VP of Safety, Government Affairs & Quality Assurance, MetroNet, Inc.
• Mark Frost, Executive Director, Julie, Inc.
• Stephen Schafer, Manager Joint Use & Cable Locating, FirstEnergy
• Shane Bryan, VP OSP Engineering & Construction, Ritter Communications
• Harley Hartman, President, ELM Utility Services

On June 8, Infrastructure Resources continued the Town Hall series with June’s topic asking our panelists, “Are You Prepared for the Infrastructure Bill Impacts on the Damage Prevention Industry?” This ESA Town Hall once again brought in over 100 committed stakeholders, this time around to discuss the largest infrastructure bill in American history totaling $1.2 trillion, and how it has already and will continue to affect the efforts within the damage prevention industry. To provide a well-rounded, multi-stakeholder perspective, panelists representing the One Call, Locating, and Telecommunications industries came together to discuss the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Moderator Jim Plasynski got the interactive 80-minute Town Hall underway by discussing the timeline of this massive infrastructure funding rollout by highlighting how this is currently underway with related digging projects in progress by the time you are reading this. Significant macro market considerations such as supply chain issues, labor shortages, gas prices, inflation, and increased regulations have certainly complicated matters and that was a primary talking point during this event.

Some of the specific questions that were addressed during June’s ESA Town Hall include:

• What are some of your top challenges? What are some of your top priorities?
• Can a facility owner and an excavator mutually agree to a mark out after the lawful dig date?
• How are locate agreements documented and managed between stakeholder groups?
• How do utility owners effectively partner with utility locators to accommodate for the increased project demand?
• How are you dealing with large or complex project tickets?
• How are companies addressing high turnover rates and labor shortages in the utility locating profession?
• How are companies dealing with supply chain shortages on items such as paint, flags, and other materials?

We received great feedback from our stakeholders for June’s ESA Town Hall. In fact, 94% of respondents would absolutely recommend ESA Town Halls to a peer. Raymond Sonnier of Atmos Energy said it best, “Are any of you guys willing to talk to me about damage prevention until I go to sleep tonight…LOVE this conversation!”

Here are some notable quotes from our panelists:

George Kemp: “Communications and relations can’t be emphasized enough.”
Mark Frost: “Locating is a limited resource, so we are trying to make sure that we do everything in our power and we’re trying to do our part at the damage prevention center to assist with that, to at least mitigate those projects that don’t need marks on the ground. Let’s reserve the locators for those projects that are ready to go.”
Shane Bryan: “Experience is key…you can’t just throw a locator out there with a few hours of training or a week of ride-alongs and pretend like they’re going to be able to effectively measure and put marks on the ground.”
Harley Hartman: “It is absolutely critical on every line they put on the ground out there for everybody around and the folks digging on it, so we have to have very confident, very skilled people out there doing it and we’re going to have to pay for that.”

What makes a One Call Law Fair & Effective?

Moderator: Tracey Bryant, Public Awareness Program Manager, CenterPoint Energy
• Steve Allen, Executive Director of Pipeline Safety, Energy Worldnet, Inc.
• Louis Panzer, Executive Director, North Carolina 811
• M.G. Govia, Education & Outreach Liaison, Oklahoma One-Call System, Inc.
• Shannon Neufeld, Technical Leader, Damage Prevention, Canada Energy Regulator
• Kurt Youngs, President, Youngs Excavating Inc.
• Jerry Cobenais, Operations Manager, Xcel Energy
• Josh Richard, Locator, Xcel Energy

On July 14, Infrastructure Resources held an ESA Town Hall with a focus on One Call laws and how it affects facility operators, contractors, and other industry professionals in the United States and Canada. The primary question asked to our panelists and to the audience at large was, “What makes a One Call Law Fair & Effective?” During this town hall, our participants discussed what has worked, and what hasn’t, as well as the overall fairness of the policies for their stakeholder groups. During the discussion, there was an abundance of involvement among our engaged chat group as well. In fact, nearly 30 stakeholders chimed in during the discussion. Enforcement, in terms of education requirements and monetary fines for liable parties, was one such policy that was thoroughly discussed and Shane Ayers of Stake Center Locating conveyed an important point in the chat, “the key [is] to have a fair and effective balance of fines and education. If a party continuously repeats an offense, say not calling 811, then fines are a tool to get their attention. On the other hand, a damage resulting from improper excavation techniques might be a good candidate for education.” Shelly Dornick, of Colorado Springs Utilities, also shared with everyone the great success that their program has had in educating nearly 1,000 individual excavators. Our ESA members appeared to enjoy this topic, as Mike Evans, with his 45+ years in the telecommunications industry put it, “great discussion, great group, your audience adds a lot of value.” Until next time!

Some of the questions that were brought up during July’s ESA Town Hall include:

• What are your thoughts on mandatory vs. complaint-based reporting?
• Have damages increased or decreased with the different programs that have been put in place?
• Are excavators held to the same standard as facility operators in terms of enforcement?
• How has the ample data that comes with mandatory reporting impacted business?
• What information do you collect and who do you reach out to when investigating a damage?

Here are some notable quotes from our panelists:

Jerry Cobenais: “To me, it’s an unfair balance of how enforcement happens across the state, how utility operators are held to such a higher standard than the excavator that’s actually putting the backhoe in the ground.”
Louis Panzer: “Keeping the stakeholders communicating and happy and not feeling like they are being left on the sidelines is the most important aspect of having this multi-stakeholder group.”
Kurt Young: “The enforcement on the gas and pipeline side, believe it or not, works pretty darn well.”
M.G. Govia: “The 811 Center is the ambassador of both sides. I want my excavators to get their jobs done and get paid and move onto their next job, just as much as I want to make sure no damages occur.”
Shannon Neufeld: “Approach everything as if you’re going to court. Take pictures before, during, and after…we have the technology, let’s use it.”
Steve Allen: “From a regulatory enforcement perspective, the old rule is if you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it.”
Josh Richard: “We do end up having a very detailed list of all our hits, all the damages that have happened around the state of Minnesota… we can invest more time into who needs help and who needs more education.”

Want to view the ESA Town Halls for yourself and get answers to all the above questions? Head on over to and become a member for FREE. We encourage you to participate in future ESA Town Halls and to suggest topics of interest to YOU. Want to attend an in-person Town Hall? Join us at the 2023 Global Excavation Safety Conference in Tampa, Florida, from February 14-16, 2023. For more details and to register, visit

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