The 12-year-old gargantuan dirt pile at the corner of Water Street and Sunset Drive in Kelowna is finally coming down.

An excavator started work on the site Tuesday, filling up trucks to haul away the material and make way for two highrise condominiums.

As dirt removal goes, it’s a momentous task. An estimated 33,000 cubic metres of extra soil, six metres high, covers the 1.2-hectare site. Getting rid of it will take months.

Clearing the site will also end a dozen years of having to stare at an unsightly mound.

Dust blew off the pile; weeds, and even trees, took root; the homeless took refuge there; and since it was already a dirt pile, it attracted others to illegally dump not just more dirt, but garbage.

The pile has been a symbol of recession and thwarted ambition.

In 2005, the Westin hotel chain wanted to build a highrise there, in the midst of the burgeoning north downtown where Prospera Place arena, the Delta Grand hotel and several highrise condos had already risen.

But, before the dirt could be removed and a hotel put up, the proposal and the site was abandoned during the 2008 recession.

Such an accumulation of dirt is used to compact land before a highrise is built.

Usually, the compaction process takes a year.

Despite this pile being there 12 times as long, it did little to compress the site.

“We’ll have to put a lot of steel piles 150 feet into the ground there so we can build highrises on it,” said Robert Camacho, project manager for the One Water Street project.

Such piles are the second option to shore up ground to support highrises.

Finding new homes for all the dirt will be a challenge.

There’s no one place to transfer it, so it will go piecemeal to numerous contractors, who will use it for backfill or compaction at various other construction sites.

North American Development Group and Kerkhoff Construction are the saviours in this scenario.

The Toronto- and Vancouver-based companies took over the site to build what will be Kelowna’s two tallest buildings at 36 and 29 storeys. Kelowna’s current loftiest structure is the 26-storey Skye condo.

Kerkhoff is also at work on another project it took over after a false start. It is nearing completion of the 21-storey 1151 Sunset Drive condo tower. Previously called Lucaya under another developer, construction stalled after the foundation was poured. It, too, became a neglected, weed-infested eyesore.

Interest in One Water Street is high as Kelowna becomes more urban and all kinds of people — millennials, young professionals, baby boomers, empty nesters and retirees — opt for highrise, maintenance-free living downtown.

Sales of the 222 units in the first-phase, 36-storey tower start Friday with potential buyers who pre-booked appointments.

Sales continue Saturday at the public grand opening at the presentation centre at 1001 Manhattan Drive from 1 to 5 p.m.

Prices start at $289,900 for a 450-square-foot studio apartment, $324,900 for a one-bedroom condo, $454,900 for two-bedroom units and $759,900 for three-bedroom units.

Construction of the first tower is expected to start in the spring, and completion is projected for spring 2020.

One Water is part of a highrise boom in Kelowna.

Besides 1151 Sunset, construction is also underway on a 12-storey condo tower at Sopa on South Pandosy Street.

There are also plans for Westcorp to build a 32-storey condo-hotel beside Kerry Park, a 20-storey condo called Ella at Ellis Street and Lawrence Avenue, a 14-storey condo beside Prospera Place, and at least a couple of retail-commercial-residential towers on the former Bargain Shop block fronting Bernard Avenue, St. Paul Street and Bertram Street.

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