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Smith says controversial mound was put at top of hill by natural forces

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  • Rob Schmidt
    http://annistonstar.com/pages/full_story/push?article-Smith+says+controversi al+mound+was+put+at+top+of+hill+by+natural+forces%20&id=3047511-Smith+says+c
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2009

      Smith says controversial mound was put at top of hill by natural forces

      by Dan Whisenhunt
      Staff Writer
      07.29.09 - 02:59 am

      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 insignificant.

      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

      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

      "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.
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