Those tiny flags? It's up to us.
May 1, 2019
“Little boxes on the hillside...Little boxes made of ticky tacky...Little boxes on the hillside...Covered with flags all the same...There’s a pink one and a green one...And a blue one and a yellow one...And it’s up to you to get them ‘cuz they leave them, by the way.”
Utility locator flags are those tiny wire and vinyl or plastic flags of various colors that are stuck in the ground in your neighbor’s yard, along the highway, on medians, right-of-ways and near construction sites throughout Boulder County.
The flags are essential when it comes to marking located utility lines before any digging happens. If the lines haven’t been located, and digging happens, then things get disrupted. Regular, reparable things like water supplies or internet service can be down for hours, sometimes days. It’s a hassle, but we can live through it. Sometimes, however, bad things can also happen, like sudden death if a gas or an electrical line is struck. More than a hassle, and someone might not live through it.
But what happens to those little flags when the digging is, well, done?
Locator flags are, by law, good for 30 days after placement. Which means that the digging that needed to get done was hopefully completed in that time, and the flags can be removed. But who removes them? Not the locating service, not the county, and frequently not by the contractors that are doing the actual digging. Not only are the leftover flags trashy looking, but the little metal poles can get rusted and bent, creating little tetanus landmines all over our beautiful county.
Which means it’s up to each of us to remove those little litter banners when their time is up. But before you leap over the neighbor’s fence and start pulling up the tiny vinyl banners from her lawn, double-check that the work has been done. You don’t want to create an even bigger hazard than a tiny tetanus landmine. And, if you dig after flags have been removed, you can be responsible for the cost of the damage, and that can get pricey.
There are a few things you can do if you’re pretty sure those flags have been there for more than 30 days and are no longer needed. You can call the Utility Notification Center of Colorado at 1-800-922-1987 and ask them if the little flags have gone past their 30-day limit. You can also contact the utility that placed the flags. The flags are typically color-coded for the utility they represent, and often the name of the utility will be on the flag.
And for those interested, here are colors’ assigned meanings: blue is for water lines; green for wastewater; red is for electrical; yellow is for gas; orange is for fun stuff like internet, phone, and cable TV; pink is for surveyors’ marks; and purple is for clown-infested storm drains. Just kidding! There are no clowns down there.