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USF researchers creating 3D model of lost arches

March 13, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

There's a modern archeological site on San Carlos Island.

Hidden away in a suburb behind Beach Bowl, a collection of hundred-year-old rocks have been laid out in an empty lot.

They're pieces of the Fort Myers Beach arches, which were torn down in the late 1970s to make way for the Matanzas Pass Bridge.

Article Photos

Graduate research assistants Becky McLaughlin and John Northrop use photogrammetry to digitally recreate the Fort Myers Beach arches using what pieces are left behind.


"We call it Arch Henge," said Lawrence Cremia, laughing.

Cremia said he's volunteered over 100 hours of his time to digging up these lost relics with the Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches non-profit group.

The rocks, some pieces of which he estimates could weigh 10,000 pounds each, have been buried under vegetation in the yard of the contractor who tore them down years ago.

Cremia and other volunteers have been working to extricate and sort the pieces so graduate research assistants from the Department of History at University of South Florida's Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEX) can scan them and create 3D images to be used in reconstruction.

"We're all really passionate about local history, so it just works out really well," said Becky McLaughlin of IDEX.

She spent last summer in Sicily studying the remains of medieval architecture.

Now, along with her colleague John Northrop, she's using the same equipment to study what's left of the Fort Myers Beach arches.

"The main method we're using is photogrammetry. We use a couple different high quality cameras and we take a series of photos and then the software stitches them together, so we have a photorealistic 3D model that's accurate within sub-millimeters," she said.

Their other piece of technology is a terrestrial laser scanner.

"It's got two different sensors, one is sort of like a radar beam, it shoots out, and if it hits something it comes back and it paints a 3-dimensional image," said Northrop.

"The software basically uses linear algebra to correlate points that are alike, so it turns a 2-D image into a 3-D image."

Once the 3-D image is created, it can be used by a construction firm or engineers to recreate the arches.

"Our group's ultimate goal is to put it back over the road," said Cremia.

Many of the pieces were crushed and used for fill, he said, so they will never be able to get them all back.

"If we don't have them all, I think we can still tell the story. It's a piece of history," he said.

Putting the arches back over the road requires a blessing from the Florida Department of Transportation, which is no easy task to get.

But president of the group, Steven Ray McDonald, has been trying.

"We went to the Metropolitan Planning Organization with a survey that showed 1000 people approving our project to put the arches back over the road," he said.

Present at the MPO meeting were members of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, Fort Myers Beach Town Council, and FDOT.

"All the players were there, and someone came back with a comment, 'You've got 1000 people that support your project, but how many of them are from San Carlos Island?'" McDonald said.

So he planned another survey, this time door-to-door on April 6, and he's trying to put together as many teams of two as he can to query the residents of San Carlos Island.

There's another development at the county level that gives McDonald some hope.

"(County Commissioner) Cecil Pendergrass is going to have the commissioners vote on whether or not they will approve a workshop between us and FDOT. And if we get that workshop, we'll be able to figure out what FDOT will allow us to do," he said.

"There was an Observer poll back in 2016 that told us that 70 percent of those polled wanted the arches over the road. We've always been going in that direction."

For Cremia, who has fond childhood memories of the arches, the project is more than just nostalgia.

"I think it's important that we preserve history. Local history. There's so many beach towns that have become developed. But I think we have to pay some respect to the past," he said.



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