Riley sends 'mound' concerns to state historical commission
by Dan Whisenhunt
Staff Writer
Jul 22, 2009 | 7732 views |  33 comments | 391 391 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Oxford's City Project Manager Fred Denny stands on top of Signal Mountain behind the Oxford Exchange. Photo: Jay Reeves/Associated Press
Oxford's City Project Manager Fred Denny stands on top of Signal Mountain behind the Oxford Exchange. Photo: Jay Reeves/Associated Press
Gov. Bob Riley last week responded to a Texas woman concerned about the potential destruction of an American Indian-built stone mound in Oxford, but his office says he will not get involved with the issue.

Riley sent a letter on July 13 to Judith Richards Shubert of North Richland Hills, Texas. Shubert writes a blog called "Genealogy Traces" and became concerned about the issue when fellow bloggers highlighted it.

The city is destroying the hill underneath the American Indian mound to use as fill dirt for a Sam's Club nearby. The mound could be 1,000 years old or older, and some preservation officials are concerned it could contain human remains or burial artifacts. A University of Alabama report on the mound found no evidence of such remains, but recommended the city keep an expert on hand in case funerary artifacts are found.

Riley told Shubert he appreciated her e-mail and said he forwarded it to Frank White, executive director of the Alabama Historical Commission.

While the commission has concerns about the site and recommended the city leave the site alone, officials do not think state laws governing excavations apply to lands not owned by the state.

"I am confident Mr. White and his staff will evaluate your concerns and take any appropriate available action," Riley wrote.

Todd Stacy, a spokesman for Riley, said the governor believes there is nothing the state can do to save the structure.

"If the state doesn't have jurisdiction, then it's up for the local folks to decide," he said.

City officials told the Associated Press they intend to eventually replace the top of the hill containing the mound with space for commercial development.

Mayor Leon Smith told an AP reporter the rocks were left on top of the mountain by erosion, a claim disputed by preservation officials and a report commissioned by the city. The city also allowed an AP photographer onto the site last week with Smith's permission. The city has denied requests by The Star to visit the site. City Project Manager Fred Denney, who spoke to the AP reporter and is featured in the pictures, declined to comment for this story. Attempts by The Star to reach Smith for this story were unsuccessful.

The AP photos show a scene dramatically different from the one shown in pictures Johnny Rollins of Heflin took in May before demolition crews reached the site. The site, once shaded by trees, is shown virtually stripped of vegetation.

Shubert said the governor's response to the issue satisfied her.

"I was pleased to actually receive the letter from the office of Bob Riley, governor of Alabama, and felt my words had been heard," she said. "I really had not expected that much."
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