Ontario utility locators compete in annual ORCGA Locate Rodeo

Utility locators from across Ontario were recently able to put their locating skills to the test.

In Mid-August, 44 locators met at Durham College in Oshawa to compete in the 12th annual Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) Locate Rodeo. 

These events put the spotlight on locators who are on the front lines of the damage prevention industry,” said Jennifer Parent, manager of growth, councils and membership services for the ORCGA. “We want this event to promote the significance of their role in excavation.” 

The event also features an excavator challenge, now in its third year of competition. 

“You have people that identify where the underground infrastructure is, and the operators that are excavating around the underground infrastructure,” Parent said. “The two events complement each other very well.”

How it works

The locate rodeo features nine locator wheels, with two dedicated to each of the major utilities, including two for water, two for telecom, two for gas and two for electricity. 

The ninth wheel is the Locate from Hell challenge, recently renamed the Ken Ritchie Memorial Locate Challenge (KRMLC) in honour of a longstanding volunteer with the ORCGA, which allows three minutes to complete, rather than the 12 minutes allowed for the other challenges. 

“That one is usually multiple utilities and a combination of very complicated infrastructure,” Parent said. 

Each competitor must complete the two wheels in their utility specialty as well as the KRMLC.

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To determine the winner, competitors are ranked based on time and proximity to the master utility measurements of the wheel. 

“It is a skill. Some are better than others and some are more experienced. Some just have a finer touch,” Parent said.

The locators’ ability to showcase their skills through the locate rodeo may also come with some advantages for their career. 

“A lot of people are watching who the winners are, and they sometimes poach the winners because of their locating skills,” Parent said. “When they’re so skilled at locating, they want them at their company.” 

Bragging rights are also an important element of the Locate Rodeo, Parent noted. G-Tel Engineering, for example, holds practice runs for its staff before the event. 

“They really work with their locators to help them understand and best navigate the competition,” Parent said. 

Locator bragging rights

For PVS Contractors, the competition is an opportunity to take a break from a busy summer of locating.  

“A lot of us have done this for a number of years now and it just gives us something to look forward to every year,” said Dana Trenholm, a locator with the company that has entered the Locate Rodeo for more than a decade. “We get busy in the summer, so this gives us a break from the daily grind.” 

Trenholm was optimistic about his performance as he walked away from the Locate from Hell competition. 

“I think I nailed it. This might be the first time I nailed the Locate from Hell,” he said. 

Trenholm did, in fact, nail the competition. He placed first in the KRMLC leg of the rodeo. 

“We’re here to compete for bragging rights, and for the company too,” he said. 

Canadian Locators go International

The winners of the telecom, power, gas and water competitions now have the opportunity to move onto the International Locate Rodeo, which takes place in Springfield, Missouri in December. 

“They have competitors from as far away as Australia and New Zealand,” Parent said. “Canadians have placed first, second and third at internationals. For us to place is pretty good bragging rights.” 

Promoting responsible excavating

For the ORCGA, the locate rodeo and excavator challenge help to promote the importance of knowing what’s below ground before digging begins. Failing to identify utility location may have catastrophic consequences. 

An excavator operator that punctures a gas line for example may face a loss of machinery and reputation, as well as higher insurance costs. 

“If I’m the excavator owner, and emergency services have to come in, I have to pay for that,” Parent said.  “I’d also have to pay for the cost of the gas that’s lost, repair costs and face a potential lawsuit.”

She added there’s no shortage of used equipment available that could be purchased by an inexperienced and untrained operator.  

“I could go online and purchase a mini excavator, and tomorrow I could start my business. But I don’t have any training, I don’t know about underground infrastructure and I don’t know the proper procedures,” Parent said. “That is the great fear that many of our facility owners have. Anyone can go out and start ripping things up.”

To help avoid potential problems with digging near utilities, ORCGA has created several training courses. Alongside a damage prevention course, the ORCGA is currently developing an excavator operator course. 

“It’s not specifically focusing on the machinery, but their role in underground infrastructure,” Parent said. “That’s something we’ve identified in the industry as not available to excavator operators.” 

Locate Rodeo winners

Telecom Division

  • 1 – Jordan Inman, T2 Utility Engineers
  • 2 – Jason Sagodi, Canadian Cutting and Coring
  • 3 – Samantha Axford, MultiView Locates Inc.

Power Division

  • 1 – Jason McFadden–Acuren Group
  • 2 – Andrew Scholcz, Urban X
  • 3 – John Sweeting, PVS Contractors

Gas Division

  • 1 – Shannon Robertson, PVS Contractors
  • 2 – Taylor LeBlanc, Trans-Northern Pipelines Inc.
  • 3 -John Vanderbyl, Promark–Telecon

Water Division

  • 1 – Tristan Chang, Promark–Telecon
  • 2 – Geoff Halverson, T2 Utility Engineering
  • 3 – Issam Hammoud, Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury

KRMLC Division

  • 1 – Dana Trenholm, PVS Contractors
  • 2 – Michael Graci, Aecon Locates
  • 3 – Fahad Ibrahim, PVS Contractors

Excavator Challenge winners

  • 1 – Dan Vis, Avertex Utility Solutions Inc.
  • 2 – Randy McAleer, Enbridge
  • 3 -Dan Martin, Avertex Utility Solutions Inc.