Dear ABC News Fixer: Digging Into Electric Lines

PHOTO: Underground cables and pipes

Dear ABC News Fixer: Last summer, we built a fence around our back yard. We started by having the property marked for utilities, twice, then rented two different augers to try to dig the holes, making sure we stayed well away from the utility markings.

We had to hand-dig deeper on several of the holes. While making one of the holes deeper, I struck an electric line that feeds our house.

The locator company sent someone out again and they finally found the electric line, running right through the middle of the hole. ComEd determined it was their line I nicked, and they sent a repairman out to fix it. He said I had only nicked the insulation and he just wrapped the cable.

I mentioned that the area was not marked when we began digging there, and he said that it happens all the time. Many months passed until suddenly, in April, I received a bill from ComEd stating that I owe $1,047.11 for repairs.

We have since had markings done again, and the line was not marked in that location, again.

I don't think I should be responsible for a mismarked line.

- Douglas Edmunds, Bolingbrook, Ill.

Dear Douglas: If only you'd dug a little faster, your case would've been a slam dunk.

Under the rules of Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators (JULIE), the nonprofit locating service of which ComEd is a member in your home state of Illinois, a property owner is supposed to begin their digging project within 14 days of their JULIE request and finish within 28 days.

If you dig after that, all bets are off – and unfortunately, you were still digging about two months too late. Still, you still made a pretty good argument that the 28-day deadline wouldn't have mattered, since the next person to come out and mark the lines got it wrong again.

You also said that no one mentioned anything about needing to complete the work in 28 days.

The ABC News Fixer took this to ComEd and they promised to take another look.

Soon after, you heard from a claims manager, who told you that while they believe the repair bill was justified, they understand that you might have been unclear on the deadline. They offered to reduce the bill to $500, and you've accepted.

We were hoping they might agree to document all the underground electric lines once and for all, but they said they can't do that. Next time you'll need to start again with JULIE when you want to dig. (We suggest you stand out there and show the locator where you hit the line last time.)

A word for other do-it-yourselfers: JULIE is for sites in Illinois outside Chicago. For other locales across the country, homeowners can call 8-1-1 or go to www.call811.com to get free marking of their utility lines a few days before they intend to dig.

Homeowners should call before planting trees, installing a fence or anything else that requires digging – not only for one's own safety but to avoid zapping their whole neighborhood out of power.

- The ABC News Fixer

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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