The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) is charged under the Georgia Code with enforcing the Georgia Underground Facilities Protection Act (GUFPA).
GUFPA is designed to protect the public from personal injury, injury to property, and interruption of utility service resulting from damage to utility facilities (e.g., from blasting activities, excavating operations, and the like). GUFPA’s requirements are as serious as they are complex.
To that end, the PSC has a variety of enforcement mechanisms under GUFPA, including warning letters, at a minimum; requiring training on GUFPA requirements; and imposing fines on individuals or companies of $10,000 per violation. Additionally, an individual or company can be held personally responsible for GUFPA-related damage and ordered to reimburse a utility company for that damage.
Not surprisingly, the procedures for establishing and punishing GUFPA violations are specialized and complicated. For example, a typical GUFPA docket at the Public Service Commission will contain the names of 20 to 40 individuals and companies who are accused of having violated GUFPA, although such violations are universally accidental. Further, the fines for established violations range from $5,000 to over $25,000 for companies with multiple violations, with total fines generally ranging from $50,000 to over $100,000 every two weeks.
Initial GUFPA Enforcement
Stone & Baxter can help individuals and companies accused of having violated GUFPA and can work with clients to reduce or eliminate GUFPA penalties using GUPFA guidelines. For example, we routinely help clients by advocating mitigating circumstances to the investigator assigned by the PSC and advocating for lower levels of enforcement (e.g., warning letters; consenting to GUFPA training; etc.).
GUFPAAC and PSC Advocacy
Occasionally, we’re unable to resolve cases consensually with investigators. In those instances, we can advocate a client’s case in front of the Georgia Utility Facility Protection Act Advisory Committee (GUFPAAC). The GUFPAAC is a 13 member committee that reviews an investigator’s recommendation. If the GUFPAAC resolution is still not acceptable, then we can represent a client before the Public Service Commission.
Finally, Stone & Baxter is an excellent training and compliance resource for companies affected by GUFPA.
To talk with a Stone & Baxter attorney about your GUFPA matter, click here.