More Digging Leads to Breaking New Ground

NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – True to their agency motto, officials from the Ohio Utilities Protection Service called before they dug. Only they didn’t dial 811 to notify the utility company, they called the press.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit held a groundbreaking for its new 17,000-square-foot headquarters here.

“In the end it was an obvious choice,” said Executive Director Roger Lipscomb in addressing the audience.

“We needed to stay in the Mahoning Valley because we have a great workforce here.”

The Ohio Utilities Protection Service opened here in 1972. It serves as a communication link between those who need to dig and the owners and operators of underground utilities throughout Ohio.

The new building will house all 75 of the agency’s employees when it opens in August 2017. “We’re expecting to add another eight to 10 over the next several years,” said Lipscomb.

The company’s headquarters are on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown.

Construction costs are budgeted at $3.2 million. About $1.5 million is coming from O.U.P.S., $500,000 in a state 166 loan from the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp., with the remainder coming from member organizations and loans from Huntington Bank.

OUPSRendering

“There’s a lot of excavation activity occurring in the state of Ohio right now, which is why we are in need of a bigger building,” says Lipscomb.

Some of the growth results from a revision of the Underground Damage Prevention Law. Lipscomb spearheaded the effort in 2006, at the behest of the organization’s board of trustees.

“The law was very weak,” recalls Jim Jewell, who serves as board chairman and is also deputy to the Franklin County engineer.

“You could break the law but nothing happened to you for doing it,” he adds.

Lipscomb formed a coalition of utilities, municipalities and government agencies, then lobbied state lawmakers to write and pass House Bill 458. Signed into law in 2012, it helps streamline communications between diggers and utility operators.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-32 Boardman, who worked with Lipscomb throughout, recalls the confusion the old law caused: “It didn’t make sense to me why we didn’t have everyone calling the same center, following the same rules, no matter who they were or what they were doing.

The law had no teeth, Lipscomb says. Two years later Senate Bill 378 was signed, giving the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio jurisdiction over the excavation laws

Since the law took effect, Lipscomb says, the percentage of utilities damaged as a result of someone failing to call 811 has dropped to 22% from 30% and continues to fall.

“We keep breaking our ticket volume record,” says Jewell. “The law’s working.”

Lipscomb says last year the O.U.P.S. contacted utilities 8.3 million times and is already 16% ahead of that number this year.

“That’s 8.3 million times that somebody could have dug into a buried utility,” he says.

Pictured: Jim Jewell, O.U.P.S. trustee, Roger Lipscomb, executive director, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, and Joe Igel, trustee.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.