The Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery and the Ministry of Energy will be consulting on potential options that could prohibit fees being charged by members of Ontario One Call for underground infrastructure locates.
The letter, issued May 11, reads providing free locates is a current practice in almost every municipality today.
“The government will engage key industry stakeholders, including energy utilities, municipalities, telecommunication companies, excavators, and others on this important matter,” it states.
The government response stems, in part, from a new regulation, which came into effect April 1, that gives Ontario One Call the authority to issue administrative monetary penalties for non-compliance with prescribed provisions of the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act, 2012, including digging without locates or not delivering locates within specified timelines.
The letter states as a result of the consultation efforts, the effective date of the administrative penalty regulation administered by Ontario One Call will now be April 1, 2024.
Steven Crombie, manager of government relations and public affairs at the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA), said launching the consultation is a positive move.
“Our position as the OSWCA is that if one utility company is allowed to charge for locates, shortly thereafter all utility companies are likely going to have some charge associated with locate delivery. Ultimately what this will mean is just a massive additional cost to delivering projects,” said Crombie.
“The example we’ve used is the Ontario Line is about 15,000 city blocks. Typically, when you call in for a locate they will give you the diameter or the distance of about one city block. So, if you can imagine calling for 15,500 city blocks each one of them expires within 60 days, we’re talking about potentially tens of millions of dollars just on that one project.”
Crombie said the focus right now should be on finding ways to deliver infrastructure cheaper and more efficiently.
“These fees have typically been covered within the service delivery charges of the infrastructure, i.e. your gas bill and your water bill,” he said. “We think that’s an appropriate way to continue to move forward. In launching the consultation, the government has announced that it is going to push back the implementation date of the administrative monetary penalty portion of the legislation until April 1, 2024. We think that’s a fair compromise.
“We would have liked to have seen administrative monetary penalties stay live this year and in cases where there was egregious offences a monetary penalty could be levied against utility companies. However, the government is moving on potentially prohibiting charges directly to excavators which we think is needed at this time. I think its going to bring everybody to the table.”
On March 10, Enbridge Gas issued a notice to stakeholders stating as of May 1 they were going to start charging for locate delivery. It was going to be $200 per locate for every relocate request. Enbridge decided to pause the charge before it was implemented.
“We had launched an application to the Superior Court challenging a utility company’s ability to actually issue a charge for something that they are required to do under the law,” said Crombie, adding Enbridge is not mentioned in the letter from the joint ministers but he believes it is related. “The timing of this, it’s only a month after Enbridge’s letter to stakeholders.
“We understand that there are competing interests on this issue,” he added. “If we have to concede a year of fines so that next year we get to a place where utility companies cannot levy charges, we’re OK with that.”
According to the letter, the government, in partnership with Ontario One Call, will also consult on enhancements to the locate delivery requirements and will consider a range of options to build flexibility into the current locate delivery system while supporting overall locate performance improvements.
It includes potential expansion of the dedicated locator model as well as new rules to support locate delivery timeframes and consideration of compliance related activities that account for the realities of Ontario’s construction sector.
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