The man in foreground is Daniel Schafer, history professor emeritus from University of North Florida. Bob Gross from Brevard County is on the left. They were working with Southeast Archeological Center (National Park Service) archaeologists to excavate the cavity of where one of the sugar kettles once was placed. Kettles were used for boiling sugar cane juice down to concentrate the syrup into sugar. The picture was taken in 2008 (National Parks Service)
By Jim Waymer, Florida Today
Cape Canaveral, FL (Florida Today) -- The long-abandoned citrus-farming town of Shiloh near the
Brevard-Volusia county line is at the center of a battle between
environmentalists who want to preserve some of the world's best scrub
habitat and space advocates who want to build commercial launch pads.
as federal officials are gearing up for two public meetings this week
about the proposed Shiloh Launch Complex, both sides are making their
the Merritt Island National Wildlife refuge fear a launch complex would
limit their ability to conduct controlled burns, essential to keeping
the landscape rife with rare scrub jays, gopher tortoises and eastern
indigo snakes. Shiloh also holds special significance to the fishing,
hunting and birding communities. And history buffs fear that a
250-year-old slave plantation dubbed one of North America's most
significant historical sites, scattered Indian mounds and early
settlers' graves could become off-limits to future preservation and
"It's a very rare, very unique habitat," said Mike Legare, the refuge's lead biologist.
space advocates counter that the feds seized the land in the first
place for space exploration. They fear an already hard-hit space economy
will squander a rare opportunity to win back launches and jobs.
Florida - the agency responsible for promoting aerospace in the
Sunshine State - said Shiloh is the right spot because the new pads must
go outside the federal enclaves of NASA and Cape Canaveral Air Force
Stationto lure commercial launches that largely abandoned the area,
until two recent SpaceX launches.
low costs, easy access and dependable launch schedules sought by
commercial satellite operators have proven difficult to achieve at
federal facilities where the first priority is national security and
civil space missions. Without the added flexibility and control the
proposed Shiloh complex offers, those commercial launches could instead
move to Texas, Georgia or other states eager to attract the business and
jobs, Space Florida says.
"The vast majority of where we're going, it's fallow orange grove.
It's not like it's pristine stuff," said Dale Ketcham, director of
strategic alliances for Space Florida, noting that the plan called for
avoiding environmental and archeological impacts as much as possible.
complex would consist of one or two launch pads on up to 200 acres now
owned by NASA and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each
pad would fence off about 30 acres and could support up to 12 launches a
year of medium- to heavy-lift, liquid-fueled rockets, and as many test
firings of their booster engines.
Supporting facilities and a launch control center could be built in southern Volusia County.
SpaceX is the main near-term target, Space Florida says Shiloh could
attract other companies even if SpaceX ultimately chooses to go
Federal Aviation Administration will hold public meetings Tuesday in New
Smyrna Beach and Wednesday in Titusville to explain the project and
take comments as part of its study of the environmental impacts. People
have until Feb. 21 to comment.
a recent visit to the proposed site, a pair of white-tailed deer
galloped across a fire-line sandy road in front of a U.S. Fish and
Wildlife sport utility vehicle. A group of wild turkeys skedaddled into
the thick brush as the truck approached. Scrub jays dashed from oak to
among winter-browned grasslands that resemble an African savanna. A
large, empty bald eagle's nest was nestled at the heart of one tree.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlined its environmental concerns in a Jan. 3 letter to FAA.
• 18 federally listed endangered or threatened species.
• 14 state-listed animals.
• 31 families of federally threatened Florida scrub jays. The area has the potential to support 77 scrub jay families.
among biologists' concerns is the scrub jay - among Florida's most
threatened species. The bird's population has plummeted more than 90
percent since European settlement. The refuge guards one of the bird's
largest populations and is considered one of its last four core
remaining population hubs.
"It's inconsistent," Legare said of the Shiloh proposal. "This is supposed to be a buffer area for launches."
scrub is also a haven for the humble, yet vital, gopher tortoise. They
are known as keystone species because more than 350 other species use
tortoises evolved to a frequently burned scrub habitat of specific
forage plants and grasses. Relocating them can spread disease among the
species, biologists warn.
rangers fear the launch complex would result in more roadkill because
of increased traffic. They recommend any new roads include wildlife
undercrossings to minimize deaths of wildlife.
They also worry the complex would thwart plans to open up new deer and wild hog hunts there in coming years.
Also topping out the concerns: fears that the controlled burns needed to maintain that habitat would face limits.
don't know why they keep saying that," Ketcham said. "We have told the
federal government and industry: don't bother applying for utilizing
this capability unless you can accommodate burning."
NASA and Air Force launches usually prohibit refuge burns within six miles of a launch or payload storage facility.
Artifacts at risk
Joining the environmentalists in opposition to the plan: local historians.
They point to the 2,585-acre Elliott Plantation as among the most archaeologically significant sites in Shiloh.
plantation, built in the 1760s, is thought to be the southernmost and
first British Colonial period sugar plantation. The mossy rock walls of
the sugar mill still stand. William Elliott never went there. John Ross,
a Scotsman, ran the plantation for him, using slave labor to distill
rum, grow sugarcane and make dye for British military red coats.
years of archeological survey and evaluation argue this site is one of
the most significant historical properties in North America and is
likely National Historic Landmark eligible," according to a recent
report prepared by the National Parks Service.
The site includes miles of canals, roads and living areas built by slaves.
"This is one of the most significant and well-preserved
African-American landscapes known, and is unique in its quality of
preservation," the report states.
"There's probably 2,000 years of human occupation in that area," said Refuge Manager Layne Hamilton.
Ketcham said the launch complex would stay off the plantation and would be careful to avoid impacting other cultural resources.
have been aware of that from the very get-go," he said of Elliott
Plantation. "We're not putting it on top of it. We moved farther south
to get away from it."
Foster, president of the North Brevard Heritage Foundation, still fears
what could be disturbed by roads, pipes and electrical lines leading to
the launch complex.
impact to this would be catastrophic, not to mention all the other
archeological sites," she said. "It's much more than Elliott Plantation.
There are Indian mounds and middens scattered all over the place."
Fishermen echo a similar urgency.
aren't many places where you can go and fish for huge redfish on a fly
in shallow water like that," said Ted Forsgren, who represents the
Coastal Conservation Association, a group of recreational fishermen
opposed to the Shiloh plan.
think it's a very, very poor spot," Forsgren said. "We are all in favor
of the space program. They really just need to abandon this concept."
Florida has assured there would be no restrictions on current beach
access and very limited impacts on fishing, boating and birding.
Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida, doubts those promises.
Florida has never launched a sling shot, let alone a rocket," Lee said.
"They don't understand that you don't just flip a switch and cause all
of the people to just be instantly gone from the massive area of
plan would remain sensitive to recreational, environmental and
archeological concerns, Ketcham said. But he reminds opponents about the
property's main mission.
land was taken to support the space program," he said. "Yeah, it is the
refuge, but who owns the land and what was it taken for?"
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