As promised, Sam’s Corporate responded to my five questions late Monday afternoon. Below, I’ll just put what I wrote to them, and then in italics you will see that they addressed each inquiry. Here it is exactly as I wrote it and as they answered:
…thank you so much for contacting me and sending me the letter from Sam’s Club. Just as you offered, I would like to speak with someone there at Corporate. Can you please forward these questions to them? I would love to speak with someone on the phone, but because it would be easier to misinterpret, misunderstand, or just not catch something over the phone, I think that email communication would be better.
I will be very happy to publish their responses on my website for everyone to see as it should absolutely be fair that Sam’s is heard from as well.
1. Thank you for clearing up the notion that Sam’s currently owns property in Oxford, as it does not currently. It’s the city of Oxford, in particular the city’s Commercial Development Authority, that is taking dirt to use as “fill” for the future Sam’s on their own. This is the same hill that everyone – including the University of Alabama study and various archaeologists – agrees has a 1000 to 1500 year-old stone mound (and this is very likely the largest stone mound in Alabama). It is not agreed upon whether the stone mound was ever used by Native Americans for burials, but just by virtue that this mound is by definition a cultural, historic landmark, what does Sam’s have to say about these actions being done on their behalf? Even if not expressly by Sam’s?
RESPONSE: The city has assured us (and we have requested) that they are not using any of this material for the initial preparation of the site that we are considering.
2. I do understand that Sam’s did contact the city of Oxford requesting information as to whether a burial mound had been disturbed in this effort. And I do understand that their response to your corporate office was that nothing of that mound had been used in preparation for the Sam’s site. I think it’s fairly clear, though, from photographs one can take with standard-issue camera, that the area all around the mound, if not the mound itself, has been disturbed. Please reference this photograph I took late last week, in which it’s obvious that chunks of the hill have been taken from just that area: http://www.deepfriedkudzu.com/uploaded_images/DSC00040-726990.JPG . In fact, the Anniston Star has reported that city officials will not allow journalists to go up and view firsthand what kind of condition the mound is in. Does that give Sam’s pause?
RESPONSE: This is an issue that the city is best suited to answer as there have been developments prior to the proposed Sam’s Club. Sam’s Club does not currently own the site, so we do not have any influence on the decisions made in this area. Sam’s Club does understand the liability issues that exist for all property owners.
3. This entire issue, I would imagine, has been nothing short of a public relations disaster for Sam’s. Has Sam’s communicated this to Oxford city officials, that their lone actions are making Sam’s appear to be some cold corporate entity with no regard to local sensitivities?
RESPONSE: The city is aware that Sam’s Club is concerned about the situation, and they are aware of our processes for evaluating potential sites for future club locations.
4. Has this controversy altered Sam’s relationship with the city, given that the city’s actions have cast a negative light on Sam’s?
RESPONSE: The city is aware that Sam’s is concerned about the situation. We continue to work closely with the city and independent geotechnical engineers to help us make informed decisions about this site.
5. Given this issue with the Indian mound in Oxford and the contention regarding Wal-Mart building on the edge of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia, wouldn’t corporate be well-advised to publicly come forward with a statement that they do not condone the destruction of historical sites on their behalf and that specifically what Oxford is doing is damaging not only to them as a company, but to future generations who might only hear stories of “some mound that used to be there until Sam’s came around”?
RESPONSE: We would never knowingly choose a historical site as a location for the construction of a new Sam’s Club. The preservation of cultural and historical sites is important to us, and I can assure you that we exercise the highest degree of caution in the construction of our facilities to ensure that such cultural and historical sites are not improperly disturbed. The potential site in Oxford is no exception; we have been assured the site we are considering is not of historical significance and that no materials have been used from such sites to prepare for potential tracts for future development.
…again, thank you for the opportunity. I do want Sam’s to be heard – I’ve gotten so much response from this and I want everyone to hear ALL sides. I hope to hear from you / Sam’s Corporate very soon. I know there is another protest planned for this weekend so hopefully we can quickly get the word out about what’s really going on.