ALAs let you dig without having to dial

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The June 2017 edition of American Locator magazine carried a lengthy interview with PelicanCorp CEO Duane Rodgers in which he drew attention to a scheme in Canada under which contractors can gain permission from a utility to commence work without waiting for information on any buried infrastructure, if they employ digging practices considered safe.

These are called Alternate Locate Arrangements and, not surprisingly, they are popular with contractors because it means they can start work without having to wait for the location of buried infrastructure to be marked on the ground where they need to dig.

Exactly how do they work? Just what is considered ‘safe practices’ in this respect, and how are contractors assessed for the adoption of these?

The first thing to note is that ALAs are agreements between a utility and contractor. So a contractor would need to have ALAs in place with every utility having infrastructure in the area where they need to dig.

The second thing to note is that there are no standards for ALAs: the terms and conditions are determined by each utility.

There is some general information available on how they work, such as an article from hydro vac contractor Super Sucker that can be found on this link and which American Locator used to flesh out Duane’s comments.

Some examples can be found on the web, such as this one from May 2017 between the Municipality of Port Hope, Ontario and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Ltd. (Canadian Nuclear wanted to dig bore holes to look for low-level nuclear waste in the area).

An interesting aspect is that the agreement acknowledges one of the reasons for its existence to be the difficulty the municipality has in providing timely responses to requests relayed through the local OneCall service for infrastructure location information.

“And whereas the anticipated volume and frequency of calls for locates to MPH is of significant concern in order for the municipality to meet the Provincially legislated mandate for Ontario One Call requests to receive a response within five days.”

The agreement also makes clear that, whilst it is between the municipality — which has the definitive information on infrastructure location — and the contractor it can be entered into only with the OK from the local OneCall body.

“And whereas Ontario One Call permits alternate locate agreements that satisfy it that a municipality need not locate its underground infrastructure prior to the performance of underground work as long as the contractor complies with the terms of such an agreement.”

The agreement is a seventeen-page legal document, but interesting there is nothing specifying the excavation methods Canadian Nuclear can and cannot use. What Canadian Nuclear, or contractors acting on its behalf, can do is set out in a schedule to the agreement that defines the “allowable work” as

“…any subsurface work ... including drilling, daylighting, excavating, shoring, piling, backfilling and compacting in the vicinity of the underground plant in accordance with the terms of this agreement and generally accepted industry practices.”

Such work must also include

“…the carrying out of underground plant locates in advance of any excavations in accordance with generally accepted industry methods.”

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