Utility Work in the Community – What Residents Need to Know
Occasionally, residents will receive a flyer in their mail, notifying them of utility work happening on their street. Projects such as these can include the installation, or maintenance work, for utility services such as telecommunications, energy, or electrical systems.
I wanted to share some background information on how utility work is completed that can help to answer many common questions. As well as what to do if you believe that the utility /contractor is not completing the work properly.
When facing our lawns being dug up or our driveways cut, we often have questions.
• What is required of these companies to re-instate our lawns and driveways?
• Does the company need my permission to dig on my lawn?
• Does the utility need to do this work if I don’t use their service?
Location and Right to Access
As background: many third-party utility companies, whether they are telecommunication, electrical, or energy (e.g.: Bell, Rogers, Telus, Enbridge, Hydro One, etc.) each have their own systems stretching across the entire City. They have infrastructure networks buried at various depths in the ground, and as much as possible, largely run within the City’s Right-of-Way (a strip of land adjacent to the street, that varies in width). These companies privately own the systems, and have a provincially and/or federally legislated right (depending on the service) to install and access their systems.
Role of the Municipality
Although the City of Ottawa does not have the authority to deny a utility working in any particular location, it does have a role in the approval and permitting process. Utility work within the Right-of-Way is coordinated by the City, to ensure new installations do not conflict with existing infrastructure, or other projects. Once a location and timeline is deemed acceptable, the City issues what is known as “Municipal Consent”, and works to ensure that the project’s impact, both below ground and above ground, is minimized to the greatest extent possible.
By-laws and Obligations
The City also has additional By-laws that place requirements on the utility and their contractor as part of the permitting process. These By-laws include requirements that contractors agree to re-instate the area, and ensure proper, advanced notification and project details are provided to impacted residents.
As part of the advance notification process, the By-laws require that the utility company notify, in writing, all adjacent residents and business in advance of the work beginning. This notification must include: general details of the work and its location; the anticipated start date; the duration of the work; the name of the permit holder and contractor; as well as a name and contact number for further information about the work, so that residents may receive answers to questions and can raise concerns about the reinstatement process. The Road Activity By-law generally requires that a permit holder working in the Right-of-Way must restore/replace what was in place prior to the construction. Many contractors will take note of the pre-existing conditions, and many residents will take photos as well.
Note on Temporary and Permanent Restorations
This may occur during construction, but does not reflect the condition of the final restoration. For example, daylighting holes (which are a test hole that is dug to expose underground facilities) may be backfilled, but no soil or seed used. Driveway cuts may be filled with gravel and topped with cold patch temporary asphalt. These temporary restorations are completed for safety and/or to allow the various aspect of construction to continue.
This occurs towards the end of the project, and is what the City of Ottawa’s Right-of-Way staff will be inspecting to give their final sign-off. Permanent restoration must always be completed. Typically, restorations are staged over time, street by street. There are also warranties on restorations that are required from the utilities (see the link at the bottom of this post for more information). As well, it is important to let me know if you are having concerns about the final reinstatement work. It is imperative that issues be addressed from utilities BEFORE the City of Ottawa’s Right-of-Way staff have signed off on final completion of the project. As the homeowner, we will always know our own properties better and can more closely look at the work than an inspector with many projects across the City, that each typically include 10+ streets and 300+ homes.
Who to Contact
For restoration-related questions, it is always ideal to speak to the project manager at the contact information on the notice provided by the utility. They are the ones that can direct their teams to get out and investigate a site fastest. Please, always feel free to include me in any emails to them, so that I may follow up with them, track larger issues that may be happening with the project, and help to ensure that the work is being completed appropriately.
In addition to the required permits, contractors working in the City’s Right-of-Way are subject to all other applicable Federal, Provincial and Municipal laws, including Provincial health and safety regulations, as well as the City of Ottawa Noise By-law.
For more information on the City’s By-laws, the Right-of-Way, utility work visit: https://ottawa.ca/en/planning-development-and-construction/construction-right-way/information-residents.