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Oxford council rejects new Civil War markers, sidewalk project

OXFORD, Ga. — Oxford City Council members rejected the installation of new, informational Civil War markers and a separate sidewalk project during its recent meeting. 

Steve Longcrier, founder and executive director of Civil War Heritage Trails, proposed the sign installation. The nonprofit project’s goal is to install dozens of informative markers at Civil War sites throughout Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. 

The council originally approved the project in 2016. It already has installed signs in Newton County as part of a driving trail created by the project to follow the path of Union soldiers during Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864. 

The historic march was led by Union Major Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman who directed a “scorched earth” approach to capturing Confederate territory, starting on Nov. 15 in Atlanta and ending on Dec. 21 with the capture of the port of Savannah. 

Current signage created by the project is posted at the “Old Church” in Oxford, which was used as a wartime hospital during the march. 

The project also has installed signs around the Covington Square where 14,500 Federal soldiers passed through on Nov. 18, 1864, according to the Civil War Heritage Trails website.

The city council’s Committee on Race reviewed the proposal at its Feb. 16 work session. 

Councilwoman Avis Williams reported at the council's March 1 meeting that the committee decided not to allow installation of new signs but, instead, keep the preexisting signs and reimburse the group for any expenditures, including travel. 

Williams did not provide an explanation during the meeting as to why the project was rejected.

All councilmembers except Jeff Wearing voted in support of the committee’s decision. Wearing did not comment during the meeting as to why he voted against the decision. 

Longcrier expressed his surprise at the council’s decision.

“We work with 120 communities, and this is the first time that this type of action has taken place,” Longcrier said. “That being said, we’re prepared to work with Oxford in every way we can … We don’t want it to be a divisive issue; we want it to be a unifying issue.”

The meeting was conducted through the Zoom online platform. Participants were asked to keep their microphones on mute until they wanted to speak. 

The councilmembers also voted to cancel a contract with Tri Scapes Inc. for the Emory Street Sidewalk Project. 

The project would extend the sidewalk along the west side of Emory Street from Geiger Street to Moore Street. 

Councilmembers cited the recent request for a 7.5% increase in total contract value from 2019 as one of the reasons for turning down the project. 

The request increased the cost of the project from its original price of $561,751.13 to $603,882. After a $450,000 grant and a match of $112,350 from the city of Oxford, the final cost was about $190,000.

Councilman James Windham also noted that without repair to a bridge over I-20 that the sidewalk would connect with, he did not see a reason to go through with the project.

“If Emory University … [is] not going to push for the bridge hard, then I don’t see much point in us pushing for the sidewalk hard,” Windham said.

A vote on another sidewalk project, The City Sidewalk Project, was postponed until the council received a proposal from civil engineering company Keck & Wood. 

The project would extend the sidewalk along Emory Street from Soule Street to the northern city limits and will be discussed during the council’s next work session on March 15.

Wearing presented a status update on the repair of the rotted split-rail fencing in George St. Park. He proposed $1,000 as the budget for the project, which the council unanimously approved. Community members will be recruited to help with the rebuilding effort.