OLYMPIA – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jeff Morris ensuring utility easement processing and oversight, and maintaining the “Call Before You Dig” program, were recently signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Morris (D-Mt. Vernon) is chair of the House Technology and Economic Development Committee, and has been involved in both issues throughout his time in the Legislature.
“Utility easements on public land aren’t something the average person thinks about, but they are critically important not only to provide energy and other services but also to make sure the use of these easements doesn’t impact aquatic public lands,” Morris said.
Before an easement siting program was in place, siting critical community infrastructure was haphazard, resulting in large permitting backlogs and little environmental accountability. It also led to unreliable economic impacts to rate-payers.
In one case, Morris recalls, an arbitrary fee to gain aquatic lands easement in his district would have cost San Juan Islands electricity ratepayers an additional $100 per month.
“That kind of unpredictable increase just wasn’t acceptable,” Morris said.
In 2002, Morris designed an easement criteria and fee program to solve this problem, which shortened the backlog of requests and put the easement fees into the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA), which is used to fund public benefits such as shoreline access, environmental protection and recreational opportunity. HB 1001 keeps the program in place and tweaks the fee schedule to keep it current in today’s market.
Morris’s other bill (HB 1064) signed by the governor ensures the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act (also known as the “Call Before You Dig Law”) will remain in place permanently.
“This program has saved consumers, utilities, municipalities and others countless dollars by providing a free service to find underground utility and other lines before any excavation begins,” Morris said. “It’s proven itself to be a valuable service and should be continued.”
The program, overseen by the Utilities and Transportation Commission, is responsible for providing a one-call service through a non-profit provider to check where underground infrastructure is located.
According to Morris, this isn’t just for contractors. People can call 811 to use the service whether they’re planting a tree or undertaking a major renovation.