June 15, 2010
By Terry Murphy CLP

Ottawa Chapter businesses have had a nightmare this spring trying to get locates before starting any excavation. What was a normal target of two to three days from the placing of the telephone call to having locates painted on the ground, has actually turned into four weeks and more.

From what I have gathered, this is a unique problem in Ottawa. It doesn’t seem to be as critical in other areas of Ontario, or at least nobody is talking about it.   

This has caused great hardships and even layoffs for LO contractors. And, it may be that way until the end of this month.

“In 30 years of business, I have never had to slow down my production. We are now pulling guys off of construction. This is ridiculous and already has cost significant sums of money and disappointed many of my clients,” said one Ottawa landscape company owner.

Promark, the key locate company in Ottawa, didn’t anticipate the demand and received its gas company locate contract very late. Combine this with an unusually early spring, extra requests from the landscape sector (due to the threat of heavy fines) and the locate turn-around time jumped all the way up to over four weeks.

One method that will keep this time at a minimum is an ALA (Alternative Locate Agreement). This is an agreement with the utility company. Getting a contract with the utility company for an ALA will allow telephone approval to dig (less than 12 inches deep). Generally this is sufficient for an irrigation company (and even some landscape jobs), which means that the bulk of all irrigation locate requests can be handled over the phone with no locates required in the field at the site. However, the key is to have those requests registered early. Each contractor will have to obtain an ALA from each utility in his area.

Early forecast

Next year we can coordinate with the locate company as to the number of potential locates and get each specific locate address requests in early. We will be talking to the locate company in December and early January. We can advise our specific site addresses with estimated start dates. We will also get the locate company out to a chapter meeting to start the planning early. By giving the locate company an estimate of the number of locates, site addresses and target start times, the landscape industry will minimize problems for 2011 and certainly eliminate the nightmare of the 2010 spring. Milton home office and the chapters can coordinate these activities with the locate people and then allow each contractor to deal directly with specific forecasts and site requests.

Locate regulations

  • The fine is $50,000 for a first offence for cutting a gas line without a utility locate (call before you dig).
  • There is a zero tolerance policy for offenders from the Technical Safety Standards Association (TSSA), which prosecutes people for cutting utilities.
In the last two years there has been a 58 per cent increase in requests for locates in Ottawa due to government infrastructure projects and a stronger economy.

Helpful suggestions

  • Always call Ontario One Call and get locates prior to digging 1-800-400-2255
  • Call as many weeks in advance of the expected start date as possible. Remember, locates expire after 30 days, at which time a remark is required.
  • Get ticket numbers given by the locate company. The number shows the position in the queue
  • Call seven to ten days prior to work commencing, to ask for the status of the ticket number if you haven’t received the locate information. A date will be given as to when it is expected to conduct the locate.
  • Still waiting for locate notification? Call three days prior to work commencing and check the status (don’t wait until the day before).  Sometimes the locate has been done, but companies have not been notified.
  • Locate still not done? Explain to the dispatcher that your staff will not be able to work that day without the locate and ask for a priority status.  Landscape Ontario has been informed that the locate company will do everything it can to help.
  • Don’t call in a priority for everything and don’t be rude. Be insistent, but be polite and professional. Companies that are trying to work co-operatively will get the best service and the locate service will do its best to keep your staff working.   
  • Develop a working relationship with Promark; be friendly and professional at all times. They are aware of the problem and the critical need to have timely locates. Promark has assured LO it will try its best to help.
  • Promark contact number in Ottawa is 613-723-9888. The dispatchers are there to help.

Call or email Martha Walsh, Ottawa Chapter coordinator, at mwalsh@landscapeontario.com. “Landscape Ontario will do its best to keep members working effectively and efficiently,” says Sarah Johnston, Ottawa Chapter president.