François Fortin is relieved to see the Lynnview Ridge cleanup begin. (CBC News)

Imperial Oil has begun removing contaminated soil under a Calgary neighbourhood that was once the site of an oil refinery.

Heavy machinery is rumbling through Lynnview Ridge as part of an agreement reached with the province last year that ended a four-year fight by residents to hold the company responsible.

The southeast neighbourhood is full of vacant and boarded up homes, and only 11 families remain.

"Certainly it's taken longer than anyone would have wanted or likely expected," said company spokesman Hart Searle on Thursday.

Imperial Oil started buying up properties in 2001, after tests revealed high levels of lead. Today, 235 houses and townhouse sit vacant. The families that remain have the largest homes, with the best views.

Loren Guenette said he stayed in Lynnview Ridge because he didn't think he could find another view home.

"Right now, all I can say is my health is good and so it'll even be better once everything is cleaned up."

Taken by homes with view

When François Fortin moved to Calgary five years ago, he was immediately taken by what he saw at Lynnview Ridge– a nice view of the city with easy access to a park and the Bow River.

Three months after he moved into hishome, he learned the soil was contaminated.

"I am happy to see it is well underway. It has been definitely stressful for myself and my family, and all my neighbours," he said.

Imperial Oil won't say how much the cleanup will cost, but it's expected to be in the millions.

The company has to remove the top 30 centimetres of soil around each of the properties still occupied, replacing it with clean soil. Workers will dig even further down in places where contamination goes deeper. The company is also replacing lawns, decks and fences, and demolishing vacant homes.

Imperial Oilwon't say what the future of the neighbourhood will hold.

"Tell you the truth, I'm hoping for a lot more green space around me and, if I'm lucky enough, a golf course," said Fortin.