Common Ground Alliance: Damage to underground utilities poses public safety and economic risk
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Warning flags on green grass of a residential lawn.
Industry leaders are pleading with contractors and homeowners to call before they dig.

Dozens of times every day, underground utility lines are damaged by construction and other digging activity.

Underground water, electric, natural gas, fiber optic cable and other utility lines are damaged 24,000 times each year — an average of 66 times a day — by contractors and homeowners digging without following a prescribed process. That’s according to Common Ground Alliance, a group that works to educate the public on underground utility damage prevention.

Damage to underground utilities costs an estimated $30 billion annually nationwide, including public and private spending to repair it. Damage can result in catastrophic injury, loss of life, or disruption to critical services.

Common Ground Alliance is a national nonprofit trade association with members including utility, construction, insurance, and technology companies, as well as 811 centers across the country. Founded in 2000, the organization works to save lives and prevent damage to buried infrastructure.

“Quite frankly, damage to buried utilities not only causes major disruption with homes and businesses losing power, water, and communications, but also puts lives at risk,” said Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, president and CEO of Common Ground Alliance.

“With the pace of current construction activity and major infrastructure investments being made, now is the time to seriously examine how we can reduce damage and protect critical infrastructure.”

Without intervention, the problem will only grow.

Florida is slated to receive billions of dollars in federal infrastructure funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including extensive roadwork in Tampa Bay and Central Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis has also announced funding and an initiative to streamline infrastructure projects.

Utilities are also increasingly moving underground in Florida. Tampa Electric Company (TECO) is investing $100 million per year to bury overhead electric lines, while Florida Power & Light (FPL) has cited underground electric lines as important for hurricane recovery.

“As someone who’s worked in construction across Florida and the country, I can tell you that dig-ins have an extremely far-reaching impact,” said John Fluharty, a Naples-based project executive for Quanta Services and excavation director and secretary of Common Ground Alliance’s board of directors.

“That includes both the dangers they pose to anyone in the immediate area, and cutting off services not only to businesses, but also homes, schools, and first responders.”

Last month, Common Ground Alliance announced a challenge to its industry partners, aiming to make major progress on damage prevention. The “50 in 5” challenge seeks to reduce incidences of damage to underground utilities by 50% over the next five years.

“Given the increase in under-grounding the state’s utilities, it’s time to reassess how we’re protecting the reliability of those services and keeping Floridians safe,” Fluharty added.

More than three-quarters of all damage to buried utilities comes from just a few common, yet persistent, factors, according to Common Ground Alliance. Contractors and homeowners frequently fail to call 811 before they dig, Common Ground Alliance noted in a recent op-ed.

“A staggering 40% of U.S. homeowners who are planning to dig on their property this year won’t call 811 at least a few days in advance,” Magruder Lyle noted.

“That’s more than 49 million Americans who are putting themselves at serious risk of personal injury and utility service interruptions. It’s so important that Floridians who plan to dig, no matter how shallow the project, contact Sunshine 811 beforehand to have their buried utilities marked.”

Common Ground Alliance plans to make its case in Central Florida. More than 1,100 association members, vendors, and partners will meet in Orlando for the organization’s 2023 Conference & Expo at the Caribe Royale Resort April 17-21.

At the event, several Central Florida local elected officials will receive the inaugural “Community Groundbreaker Award” for committing to learn more about the importance of preventing damage to underground utilities in the region.

“Engaging local officials is important to us because their municipalities often represent many of our stakeholders simultaneously, such as excavators and locators,” said Kelly Cahill, Communications Director and Press Secretary for Common Ground Alliance. “Local leadership can have a big impact on damage prevention processes, programs, and outcomes.”

With the rate of damage to buried utilities increasing in recent years, the association contends it’s time to take a significant step forward.

“Our damage prevention stakeholders have worked diligently to make communities safer — but we’re at an inflection point. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and commit to reducing these persistent drivers of damage,” Magruder Lyle said. “It’s both a public safety and an economic issue. In some cases, it’s literally a matter of life and death.”

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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