By Dave Rogers
---- — PLUM ISLAND — Armed with trash bags and battling a stiff wind, dozens of volunteers combed Plum Island Beach yesterday morning removing as much debris as they could from the storm-battered shore.
The grass-roots community cleanup took place roughly two weeks after a powerful winter storm pulverized Plum Island, knocking two houses off their foundations, irreparably damaging four more to the point where they had to be demolished, and threatening about 30 more. In a last-ditch effort to save their properties, several homeowners south of Plum Island Center enlisted contractors to construct enormous seawalls made out of rocks and concrete blocks.
Since then, Plum Island Center and beaches to the south have been closed to the public in order to allow construction vehicles to work on the beach without fear of harming beach walkers.
Beaches are expected to remain closed until all heavy machinery have been removed. Despite the multiple electronic message board signs and yards of yellow police tape, curiosity seekers continue to defy the order.
Sunday, six people, all from out of town, were issued summonses for trespassing. Weeks earlier, just after the storm left the region, nine people, none from Newbury, were also summonsed for trespassing.
Yesterday, as volunteers augmented by about a dozen prisoners from the Essex County Sheriff’s Department were removing debris from the beach, the sound of heavy earth movers and bulldozers could be seen and heard continuing their efforts.
“I’m pooped,” said Mike Doyle, former selectman and current candidate for the elected position.
“It’s a lot of work,” countered Darlene Spang, who was walking alongside Doyle.
Closer to the groin area, two young volunteers were seen on hands and knees uncovering and dislodging sharpened planks of wood. Other volunteers were seen carrying large trash bags filled with snow fencing, wooden strips and other types of debris. The trash bags were brought back to Plum Island Point where they were emptied on what was quickly become a massive pile of refuse.
Recently retired Mike Desmond said he wasn’t surprised at all the event drew so many residents, adding that when Plum Island needs help, its residents were there to answer the call.
“They usually do when something needs to be done,” Desmond said.
After spending several hours picking up debris, sometimes on their hands and knees, volunteers amassed enough material to fill a large Dumpster plus a bonfire-sized pile, both located inside the Plum Island Center parking lot.
Coordinating the effort at Plum Island Taxpayers Association hall was Newbury Conservation Agent Doug Packer with assistance from Plum Island state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. Packer said residents began signing in around 8:30 a.m. Volunteers were broken off into groups of 10 with one person assigned as leader. The groups were then split into eight different beach zones including the federal reservation beach, Annapolis Way, Fordham Way, Southern Boulevard, two beachfront areas and two marsh edge areas.
Following the massive clean-up, volunteers returned to the function hall to feast on free meals provided by the Beachcoma, Plum Island Grille, Bob Lobster and other local businesses.
Packer said the volunteer effort began organically as his office and other town officials began receiving phone calls from concerned residents looking for ways to help the community bounce back from the damaging storm. Eventually, it was decided to combine the many offers of help into a single cleanup.
“I’m thrilled that we have those kind of neighbors,” Packer said yesterday, adding that about 65 people signed up to volunteer.
Tarr called the effort a tremendous outpouring of support offering further evidence how important the island was to its residents.
“This helps prove the point that Plum Island is a lot more than erosion and crisis,” Tarr said.