Soil contamination saga ends for Calgary neighbourhood
Homeowners waited 8 years for cleanup of former oil refinery site
Residents of Lynnview Ridge in southeast Calgary are celebrating after the province declared their neighbourhood free of contamination eights years after its soil was found to contain high levels of lead and hydrocarbons.
Earlier this month, the Alberta government sent homeowners in the area a letter that confirmed the soil, which had been contaminated by an old Imperial Oil refinery, has been cleaned up to provincial standards.
The petroleum facility operated in the area from 1924 to 1975 and was later developed into the Lynnview Ridge subdivision.
Tim Mather and about 10 others are the only homeowners who haven't left the neighbourhood in the time since the high lead and hydrocarbon levels were discovered in 2001.
"I think the story is a great one for the residents here, [for] Calgary and Alberta, in the sense that the contamination that people and industry and whatever put on the ground has to be cleaned up," said Mather, who is also president of the Millican-Ogden Community Association, on Monday.
After discovering their soil was contaminated, residents took their fight for a proper cleanup to Imperial Oil's head office and to the courts. The government eventually ordered the company to rid the area of the toxins its operations had released.
Imperial Oil bought up 140 homes and several apartment blocks in the area, but a small group, including Mather, refused to sell.
The company removed the soil around the remaining homes to a depth of 1.5 metres. But in some areas, double and triple that amount was removed because of the high levels of hydrocarbons found.
"Certain periods were very difficult," said Renee Guenette, who has lived in her Lynnview Ridge house for 25 years. "The good thing was, we were a group here. So, being part of a community really helps because when one person gets down, the other brings them up."
Her husband, Lorne Guenette, said Imperial didn't offer market value for their home so the wait has been worthwhile.
"I believe that we're now able to move on and … we're in a position to sell our homes now. And for eight years now, we basically had no value," he said.
The disused refinery site itself could be turned into a park or golf course, but it's not clear what will happen to the homes purchased by Imperial Oil. A panoramic view and a proposed LRT stop nearby could make the area a sought-after neighbourhood again.
Real estate broker Ron Stanners said the homes could sell "as long as they're priced right."
"They may not fetch quite up to current market values in surrounding communities, but I don't think they're going to have a problem selling them at all," he said.