As I See It: Drone gives view of island's narrow spot

Marc Lacroix photoThe narrowest section of Plum Island could be broken through in a moderate storm.

It was in the YMCA gym just before Christmas where I bumped into Marc Lacroix. We exchanged pleasantries and I told him that the dunes in front of the houses on Plum Island had eroded back 10 feet during the last storm.

It was clear that the island could break through at its narrowest location and that several houses would be lost if nothing were done to protect them.

We had worked together before using Marc’s drone to shoot footage of island dynamics. We realized instantly that it might be useful to get footage of the houses before any of them succumbed to storms.

We didn’t have funding or an audience for such a film, but we decided to operate on the "video it and they will come" philosophy.

The next day, a local environmental group asked if I would introduce a scientist from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences who planned to talk about his work on Plum Island. The provocative title of Chris Hein’s Storm Surge talk was “Erosion, Is it Caused by the Jetties?” It was sure to draw a large crowd plus residents of Northern Reservation Terrace who stood to lose their homes because of the south jetty.

It also gave Marc and me a focus for our project. We decided to concentrate on filming two simple solutions to stop the island from breaking in two and to help save the houses on Northern Reservation Terrace. 

A few days later, I received an e-mail about an upcoming meeting of local and state officials with the Army Corps of Engineers who were trying to come up with a plan to preserve the island. I asked if I could show two short clips about the problems.

I didn’t really expect a positive response because the Merrimack River Beach Users Alliance meetings were usually taken up with endless discussions about how to navigate the Army Corps' intricate tangles of red tape.

But it turned out that our footage would fit their plans precisely. Sen. Bruce Tarr, who normally chaired the meetings, was going to be late because he had to attend another function, so our little clips would be the perfect filler to hold things over until he arrived.

We shot our footage at dead low tide with an overhead sun and the temperature hovering around 20 degrees, only five days before Christmas.

After spending our Christmas weekend feverishly editing the clips, we were ready and screened our footage at the Storm Surge meeting on Dec. 27. The room was jam packed with people eagerly asking pertinent questions about how to fix the island’s problems.

The following week, we showed up at PITA Hall to show our films to the MRBA meeting, but realized we didn’t have the correct cables. Fortunately, one of the Army Corps' engineers let us use her computer.

I had to introduce our clips by thanking her profusely and promising I would never write anything bad about the Corps again. It got the meeting off to a jovial start but at the end of the meeting, the head of the Corps delegation said he normally never spoke directly to a member of such a meeting but wanted to respond to our clip.

“Uh oh, here it comes,” I thought. “He’s going to ream me out.” 

But much to everyone’s surprise, Mark Habel gave a long, candid explanation of the many things that other states were doing, including proposals like ours to borrow dry sand from above the jetty to rebuild sacrificial berms protecting the houses on Northern Reservation Terrace at virtually no cost to taxpayers or residents. 

It had been a pretty good response to two short clips we had slapped together the day after Christmas.

Bill Sargent is a North Shore science writer and contributing columnist. His most recent book, "North of Boston, Living on the Edge of a Warming World," is available in local bookstores and through and



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