Smith says controversial mound was put at top of hill by natural forces
by Dan Whisenhunt
Staff Writer
Jul 29, 2009 | 9697 views |  42 comments | 95 95 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
OXFORD — Mayor Leon Smith claimed Tuesday that a stone mound at the center of a simmering controversy was put there by natural forces, though an archaeological study commissioned by the city says it was almost certainly man-made. [read letter | see UA report]

In addition, Smith and City Project Manager Fred Denney now say the hill's dirt is not being used as fill for a Sam's Club. Denney said he never said it was, even though he had confirmed it in multiple previous interviews.

Public documents also show this is the city's plan for the hill underneath the mound.

Located behind the Oxford Exchange, the hill has been the object of protest by American Indians upset by the city's actions. When a story about the hill's origins was first printed in late June, Smith and Denney said it had been used for smoke signals and said the site was insigificant.

The mound could be 1,000 years old or older, and some preservation officials are concerned it could contain human remains or burial artifacts. The city-commissioned 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.

"The chance that a stone mound of the size found at (the site) occurring by natural phenomena is not likely," the report said.

Smith's office e-mailed a press release with his most recent comments to The Star Tuesday afternoon before Oxford's City Council meeting. In it, he says the city will keep an expert on hand as recommended by the report's authors, even though he insists the mound is the result of "natural phenomena."

He also says none of the rocks and soil associated with the mound will be used as fill for the Sam's project. He also said "no construction activities are planned for the hill and associated stone mound," a statement contradicted by another part of the letter, which says the city needs the expert on hand "during the course of development activities."

After Tuesday's meeting Smith could not provide a clear answer about why work crews have been seen on top of the mound, but he said they were not getting dirt from it.

"Not one spoonful of dirt has been carried down," he said.

When Denney was first asked about the hill, he said it would be used as fill for Sam's. In a subsequent interview, Denney further confirmed this. He said a proposal by Oxford-based Taylor Corp., the company hired to do the prep work for Sam's, referred to the hill.

"This item includes undercutting two building pad footprints ..." the proposal reads. "The City has agreed to let us spoil the undercut material on their property across the new bridge."

Denney said at the time the city had made an agreement to furnish soil from the site.

The UA report also confirms Denney's earlier statements.

"The city of Oxford is proposing to use the underlying materials for the purpose of filling and grading areas that will be potentially developed for commercial and residential properties in the future," the UA report said.

The Associated Press also reported the city would use the dirt beneath the mound as fill for Sam's.

Denney now says he never said this, or, if he did, he "misspoke." He said there's no equipment on or near the hill, though for weeks heavy equipment could be seen on the site. The city has refused to let local media on the hill to figure it out one way or the other though it did give an AP reporter access.

Taylor Corp. is getting the Sam's fill dirt from the actual Sam's site and not from the hill, Denney said Tuesday.

Smith's written statement said no construction activities were planned for the hill, but Smith and Denney told the AP and Denney has told the Star the hill will be used for commercial purposes. Smith told the AP he envisions a motel or restaurant on top of the hill.

Harry Holstein, a Jacksonville State University professor of archaeology and anthropology in favor of saving the mound, called Smith's e-mailed statement "bizarre."

"The actual pile of rocks has nothing to do with erosion," Holstein said. "That is asinine, obviously."

Kelly Gregg, a geology professor at JSU, said there is no way nature made the structure on top of the hill. Gregg has visited the site.

"I don't know who transported that rock up there, but definitely at some point that rock was carried up," he said.

Related Documents

Letter from Oxford Mayor Leon Smith

Letter from Gov. Riley

Letter from Sams Club

University of Alabama report on stone mound
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