Utilities slow to identify buried infrastructure, delay construction in northeast

Hundreds of contractors in northeastern Ontario are having construction projects delayed as they wait for underground infrastructure like natural gas and hydro lines.

By law, anyone digging must contact Ontario One Call to locate all buried infrastructure at a site

Some contractors in northeastern Ontario say their construction projects are being held up one to three months as they wait for utility companies to identify their underground infrastructure. (Erik White/CBC)

Hundreds of contractors in northeastern Ontario are having construction projects delayed as they wait for underground infrastructure like natural gas and hydro lines.

In Ontario, anyone who wants to dig is required to go through Ontario One Call.

That facilitator agency contacts respective utility companies that have underground infrastructure at the site.

Legally, each company has five days to provide details on where the infrastructure is located, or they'll be penalized. No work can take place until the locates are all labelled.

Delay impacting contractors' livelihood

But according to the president of the Timmins Construction Association, builders have been waiting between one and three months for locate requests on construction projects.

In construction, a locate is a marking on the ground that shows the location of underground infrastructure, such as utilities like natural gas lines and water lines. 

"A locate has to be done legally so that people know what's in the ground from wires to gas lines so that nobody does get hurt," Timmins Construction Association president Jamie Clarke said.

"And so in turn this is really affecting the livelihood of contractors because of the small window to do their construction time within," he added.

Clarke said these delays with locate requests are creating a ripple effect with deadlines and budgets for builders.

"Say we're supposed to be done by September 1st and we have two months of excavating to do and the line locates aren't done in the proper amount of time, that job ends up being delayed and penalties can come back to the contractor," he said.

The City of Timmins was forced to wait three weeks for utilities to conduct infrastructure locates on a section of Algonquin Boulevard before it could proceed with work on a connecting link. (Erik White/CBC )

Clarke said even the City of Timmins experienced a delay in line locates as it was waiting to begin work on a connecting link on Algonquin Boulevard.

"They were prolonged, I believe it was three weeks before they could get started," he said.

Clarke said he is worried people are going to get fed up with waiting and start digging "without knowing what's in the ground."

"That could be catastrophic."

Each utility responsible for identifying buried infrastructure

Ian Simpson, the director of marketing and education with Ontario One Call, said utility companies have to do everything in their power to identify underground infrastructure within five business days if a contractor wants to dig in a particular area.

"It's not a guarantee that it's going to get done, but that's what they're required to do within the law," Simpson said.

Simpson explained that there could be four or five different utilities within a dig area.

He said utilities are responsible to send someone to a dig area to either provide a physical locate or provide a clearance.

When that happens the utility company provides the excavator the paperwork that allows them to go ahead. 

"You as an excavator or a digger cannot proceed until each one of those utilities provide that locate. Sometimes some of these utilities…may be a little late and you have to wait for that utility to complete [its locate work] before you can continue," Simpson said.

Simpson said that late or delayed locates have been an ongoing issue not just in Ontario but other provinces and in some American states, which have similar legislation.

"It's bad for the economy. It's bad for the parties involved to try to dig."

He said staffing issues with utility companies often cause the delays.

"They have to make sure they have enough resources before the dig season starts which usually starts in April and lasts well into October and beyond -- to have enough resources available to meet the demand," he said.

"They need to figure out a way to train more people quickly, and because it's a highly trained profession it could take them a long time to recoup."

Bill 93: Getting Ontario Connected Act 

Some changes were made to Ontario legislation to help address delays with locate requests. Those include:

  • An extension on expiry dates on locates.

  • Multiple contractors working on the same project can share locates.

  • There can be a dedicated locator for multiple utilities working on a larger project.

Danny Whalen is a city councillor in Temiskaming Shores. (Erik White/CBC)

Danny Whalen, the president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) and a councillor in the City of Temiskaming Shores, said the delays from utility companies locating their underground infrastructure has slowed down opportunities to build homes and repair municipal infrastructure.

"It's really having a drastic effect," he said.

Whalen discussed the issue with several provincial ministers while he attended the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa last week.

He said that the ministers made him aware of the recent changes to the legislation.

"We also brought the suggestion that perhaps we could train municipal employees to do this, which they hadn't thought about, but they were very receptive to that idea."


Angela Gemmill


Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who covers news in Sudbury and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to