The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for February 2012

verdant valley

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

While preparing the slideshow which was recently presented at the Ridgewood Democratic Club, which is one of two updated versions of the thing (differing lengths), I’ve been churning the content waters deeply. One of the little collections of images which I pulled together was called “Kosciuszko Bridge”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For awhile now, special attention has been paid to this decaying structure, due to those plans held by State employees and agencies to replace it with a modern bridge designed to overcome many of the flaws exhibited by the 1939 era “Meeker Avenue Bridge” – which was later renamed as the Kosciuszko Bridge in 1940.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a lumbering and brutish design, inelegant, undistinguished, and strictly utilitarian. Which sort of makes sense given its construction during the latter half of the Great Depression.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Literally, and figuratively, this is Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp, DUKBO. This is on the Brooklyn side, incidentally.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This post isn’t intended to carry any deep insight or reveal some historical truth. To confess, I’m showboating a bit today, and featuring something that won’t be here too much longer.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing you will notice in these shots is the horrific amount of corrosion which the bridge displays. This is, of course, why the State plans on replacing it in a few years time.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Naked, the bridge shows the lines of force which it’s engineered around, and for a structure that carries something like 200,000 vehicle crossings a day- that’s a lot of force. The Kosciuszko Bridge trusses are just so damned ugly about it, unlike the graceful curvilinear shaping of the Hellgate or Bayonne arches.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason it’s so high, around 150 feet of clearance at low water, is that ocean going ships used to come all the way back here. Not sail, although that was a consideration in 1939, but the smokestacks of ocean liners were what it was flung into the sky to accommodate.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Sliding over to the Queens bank, where the piles are driven into compacted mud and sand instead of bedrock, the legs of the bridge straddle the former home of Phelps Dodge. The neighborhood around these parts formed the border between the villages of Berlin and Blissville.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

From what I’ve been told, the former Phelps Dodge site is in private hands, but parts of it will house the new bridge which will replace the 1939 model. From the planning statements I’ve read, the new Kosciuszko Bridge won’t be quite so high.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the needs of the trucking industry will be acknowledged in the design of the onramps, which will not present quite as steep a grade to the angle of their approaches. I’ll miss the scale of the current bridge, I fear.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the nearby Megalith at Court Square in Long Island City, the Kosciuszko Bridge provides a geographical frame of reference for miles around. The only other bridges of sufficient scale to provide such service span the East River or provide connection to… Staten Island…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko Bridge, on the Queens side, follows the shallow valley between Laurel and Berlin Hills, both of which are graded down shadows of their former selves. There must have been dense woods here once, bisected by a shallow stream that fed into the Newtown Creek.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maespetche Indians who lived here were mostly wiped out by Smallpox by the 1700’s, and by that time the Dutch had already established a few homesteads here. When the English arrived, often overland from Eastern Long Island, they mocked the degenerate Dutch with their old fashioned customs and bizarre beliefs.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The English had plenty of controversies in this area themselves, with the bizarre adherents of the “Friends” cult showing up time and again from New England via the Long Island Sound, the presence of accused witches, and all sorts of odd religious experimentation by commoner and courtier alike going on.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

All that sort of nonsense ended in the early 1800’s, when the post revolutionary industrial boom got started here in DUKBO. General Chemical came in the 1840’s, and joined with the distilleries and fat renderers who had been here for years to participate in what we would call “the industrial revolution”.

Things really kicked into gear when the Long Island Railroad laid down track in the 1860’s and 70’s.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, in 1848, Dagger John Hughes buried Esther Ennis and consecrated Calvary Cemetery as the official burying ground of the Roman Catholic Church. Construction of the cemetery on Laurel Hill was largely finished by the late 1850’s, which removed approximately 360 million tons of topsoil from the hill and installed an enormous drainage system within it to dry the swampy land.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In the 1890’s, there were still homes and saloons, schools and churches here. Calvary grew by land acquisition and donation, and industrial pursuits rendered the whole area around these parts a smoky, soot stained mess.

And then, there was the smell.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The smell is legendary in the historical record, it seems that it’s all that the riders of the Long Island Railroad could talk about. Health Department records preserve complaints presented by residents of Manhattan who opined that the stink actually extended all the way to Turtle Bay (approximately 34th street).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

All that is gone now, although on humid days after heavy rains, the stink is still more than just a memory.

As are the chemicals in the ground and water which all that industrial growth left behind for the future.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Definitely. I’m going to miss the big K when it’s gone, wonder what interesting things will be found in DUKBO when the shovels hit the dirt.

After all- who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

sitting alone

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

All ‘effed up.

In one of those odd moments which often cause my steps to falter, whilst walking down hoary Kingsland Avenue in ancient Greenpoint, this discarded workman apparel seemed to be trying to tell me something.

Clearly, it was pointing at something.

from wikipedia

Ideas of reference and delusions of reference involve people having a belief or perception that irrelevant, unrelated or innocuous phenomena in the world refer to them directly or have special personal significance: ‘the notion that everything one perceives in the world relates to one’s own destiny’.

In psychiatry, delusions of reference form part of the diagnostic criteria for psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, delusional disorder, or bipolar disorder during the elevated stages of mania. To a lesser extent, it can be a hallmark of paranoid personality disorder. Such symptoms can also be caused by intoxication, especially with hallucinogens or stimulants like methamphetamine.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For a moment, the ridiculous notion that its missing owner was in mid gesture and then suddenly dissolved away struck me. The fence seen behind the glove is laden with signs that promise electrocution to those who might attempt trespass of the property it surrounds, and I thought that perhaps its owner had ignored these warnings and had been consumed by torrents of voltage and the sole survivor of the man was this garment.

That’s when I thought “perhaps it’s trying to tell me to look behind me, and offering a warning”.

from movementdisorders.org

People suffering from persecutory delusions believe that they are being conspired against or persecuted in some way. Common manifestations include the belief that one is being followed, that one’s mail is being opened, that one’s room or office is bugged, that the telephone is tapped, or that police, government officials, neighbors, or fellow workers are harassing the subject.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, nothing was amiss, and your humble narrator remained the lord of his near vicinity.

“I’m all ‘effed up” was all I said, out loud, and then continued walking back to Queens.

also from movementdisorders.org

The subject’s behavior is unusual, bizarre, or fantastic. For example, the subject may urinate in a sugar bowl, paint the two halves of his body different colors, or kill a litter of pigs by smashing their heads against a wall. The information for this item will sometimes come from the subject, sometimes from other sources, and sometimes from direct observation. Bizarre behavior due to the immediate effects of alcohol or drugs should be excluded. As always, social and cultural norms must be considered in making the ratings, and detailed examples should be elicited and noted.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 28, 2012 at 12:15 am

curious heaps

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Like Thoreau, your humble narrator occasionally needs to escape it all and commune with the beasts of the field on their own terms. Journey toward nature and become as one with it, all that. Accordingly, a recent perambulation was embarked upon whose destination would reward me with the presence of creatures for whom freedom is no abstract notion, rather it is their daily experience.

from wikipedia

Walden (first published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods) is an American book written by noted Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self reliance.

Published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts.

By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. Simple living and self-sufficiency were Thoreau’s other goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, a central theme of the American Romantic Period. As Thoreau made clear in his book, his cabin was not in wilderness but at the edge of town, about two miles (3 km) from his family home.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures of recent weeks, it is still winter- limiting my options for observing natures bounties. There will always be birds exploiting safe harborage, it was reasoned, so my steps headed for the shoreline.

There I found my reward as small flocks of birds were exploiting the mud flats typical of estuarine coastlines.

from Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau, courtesy en.wikisource.org

What is a country without rabbits and partridges? They are among the most simple and indigenous animal products; ancient and venerable families known to antiquity as to modern times; of the very hue and substance of Nature, nearest allied to leaves and to the ground — and to one another; it is either winged or it is legged. It is hardly as if you had seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a partridge bursts away, only a natural one, as much to be expected as rustling leaves. The partridge and the rabbit are still sure to thrive, like true natives of the soil, whatever revolutions occur. If the forest is cut off, the sprouts and bushes which spring up afford them concealment, and they become more numerous than ever. That must be a poor country indeed that does not support a hare.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unlike Thoreau, I have no virginal woodlands with an untouched body of water to retreat to, rather my lot is to yearn for the accursed East Branch of the hated Newtown Creek. Saying that, however, there is a mythology about this body of water which I have become keen to dispel.

This ain’t a dead place, it’s actually teeming with life. Unfortunately, it’s not the cuddly or cute kind of life- instead there are mainly worms, bugs, and other creepy crawlies for whom these anaerobic mudflats are a nutrient rich paradise. The hypoxic state of the water actually reduces the number of potential predators they might encounter.

It’s precisely this sort of critter, who live in the sediment mounds of the Newtown Creek, that the lovely birds in the shots above are feeding on.

from wikipedia

Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen (DO; molecular oxygen dissolved in the water) becomes reduced in concentration to a point where it becomes detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system. Dissolved oxygen is typically expressed as a percentage of the oxygen that would dissolve in the water at the prevailing temperature and salinity (both of which affect the solubility of oxygen in water; see oxygen saturation and underwater). An aquatic system lacking dissolved oxygen (0% saturation) is termed anaerobic, reducing, or anoxic; a system with low concentration—in the range between 1 and 30% saturation—is called hypoxic or dysoxic. Most fish cannot live below 30% saturation. A “healthy” aquatic environment should seldom experience less than 80%. The exaerobic zone is found at the boundary of anoxic and hypoxic zones.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the City, State, and even the Nation- engineers are working feverishly on grand designs and byzantine plans whose purpose it is to “fix” Newtown Creek. Many are experts on the place, and can quote a staggering amount of raw data about it from memory, but so few of them have ever actually been here.

It’s as if one can say they understand a neighborhood because they’ve memorized its map and boundaries.

When confronted with the fact that birds, including exotic specimens like egrets, cormorants, and herons are nesting along its banks- to appropriate a term from the British- “they are gob smacked”.

from wikipedia

Tidal flats, along with intertidal salt marshes and mangrove forests, are important ecosystems. They usually support a large population of wildlife, although levels of biodiversity are not particularly high. They are often of vital importance to migratory birds, as well as certain species of crabs, mollusks and fish. In the United Kingdom mudflats have been classified as a Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat.

The maintenance of mudflats is important in preventing coastal erosion. However, mudflats worldwide are under threat from predicted sea level rises, land claims for development, dredging due to shipping purposes, and chemical pollution.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Don’t misunderstand, this is an extremely troubled waterway, and the biomass which it should be supporting is exponentially higher than what you’ll find living here today. The early Creek, the one that the Dutch encountered, was known for an abundant biosphere. All of the highest forms of the mammalian, ichthian, and avian species were here in great numbers- everything from pike to bass to shrimp swam in it, deer and bears and wolves were roaming the hills adjoining the salt marshes and coastal wetlands and hawks, owls, and eagles were described as soaring overhead.

Such fauna obviously won’t be coming back, but there are still fish swimming around here. Not big fish, but fish nevertheless. They eat the creepy crawly things too.

from wikipedia

A tidal creek, tidal channel, or estuary is the portion of a stream that is affected by ebb and flow of ocean tides, in the case that the subject stream discharges to an ocean, sea or strait. Thus this portion of the stream has variable salinity and electrical conductivity over the tidal cycle. Due to the temporal variability of water quality parameters within the tidally influenced zone, there are unique biota associated with tidal creeks, which biota are often specialised to such zones.

Creeks may often dry to a muddy channel with little or no flow at low tide, but often with significant depth of water at high tide.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What chance can such an environment stand with an open sewer the size of an 18 wheeler truck, though?

See, my version of Walden Pond is rent asunder by CSO Outfall NC-083, which discharges an average of 586 million gallons of filth into the East Branch of Newtown Creek per year.

from habitatmap.org

Combined Sewer Outfall NC-083 discharges approximately 586 million gallons of untreated wastewater year into Newtown Creek. This accounts for 2.2% of New York City’s total sewer overflow into the estuary.

This CSO is ranked at #15 out of the 434 permitted outfalls in the city, by volume. It is located alongside a second, smaller, CSO outfall, NC-019.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2012 at 12:15 am

lethal foliage

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Would that a humble narrator might tell you that these shots were captured whilst riding upon some Hedorah like cacodaemon, but it was actually during one of last fall’s Newtown Creek Tours and onboard an entirely mundane NY Water Taxi that the subject of this “Maritime Sunday” posting was photographed.

As you can see, something was advancing toward us on the Newtown Creek that day, something newly born.

from epa.gov

Newtown Creek, located in the City of New York, is a part of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary and forms the northern border of the Borough of Brooklyn and the southern border of the borough of Queens. In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8 mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City. More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Built Nov. 04, 2010- this is the tugboat Crystal Cutler and her articulated barge (the Patricia E. Poling) plying the Newtown Creek. The article linked to below will tell you everything you could possibly ask about this tug and those who Captain and command her.

What mysteries they might have witnessed along the Creek, however, are not discussed in this profile.

from professionalmariner.com

The 70-foot, 1,500-hp twin-screw tug Crystal Cutler has been pushing and occasionally towing a 15,000-barrel clean oil barge since the tug was introduced in 2010. The tug places a high demand on her captains and crews as she ventures into shallow rivers and estuaries, moving about in a highly dynamic harbor with loads of gasoline, fuel additives or heating oil for small oil terminals.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Amongst the larger harbor community, Newtown Creek is seldom referred to in glowing terms. There are those who dispute its role and historical significance to the maritime industry- as their eyes and hearts are drawn to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the West Side of Manhattan, and the gargantuan modern ports in New Jersey.

Many would like to abandon it as an industrial corridor entirely, saying that its day as a working waterway is done, and give it over to kayaking and other recreational occupations.

from tugboatinformation.com

Founded in 1995, Poling Cutler began operations near the time the former Poling Transportation went out of business.

The Founders of the new company were Ed Poling, whose grandfather started the former Poling company, and Gary Cutler who spent years working in the financial world before getting involved in Marine Transportation.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the greatest sins along the Newtown Creek is precisely how few of its docks are utilized today. Most of the modern business along the Creek looks toward truck transportation to bring their goods to market and for the delivery of raw materials, ignoring their valuable docking rights and imprimature. Miles of bulkheads, expensively installed during prior generations, are allowed to rot away.

What a wasted opportunity.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Moving essential bulk materials by barge is more efficient economically and environmentally. From what we hear, a single barge has the same capacity as 28 – 56 long haul trucks, depending on the industry. Compared to other transportation modes, barge transport of bulk materials is safer in terms of worker injuries and generates far fewer emissions of particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, CO2 and nitrous oxide on a per ton mile moved basis.

Despite the critical importance of barge transport as a best practice for industries on Newtown Creek, much of the bulkhead along this waterway is in disrepair. Overall bulkhead condition reveals a trend of disinvestment in maritime transit and a decline in related industries. According to Army Corps of Engineers, there were 19 businesses with working docks in 1999, compared to the nine that remain active today, as of January 2011.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

When you boil it down, the whole purpose of the Newtown Creek in its current form is to bring bulk goods into New York City by barge. Admittedly, the days of Standard Oil, Phelps Dodge, and the great Lumber interests are long gone- but… imagine some farmers in upstate New York loading their harvest goods onto a barge, and sending a floating green market directly to Long Island City or Greenpoint or even Maspeth. The barge could return to the farmer laden with cash and whatever else might be needed for the next harvest, completing a virtuous circle.

Imagine standing on the shoulders of giants, rather than rifling through their corpses like so many bugs.

from dot.ny.gov

Commercial and industrial development along Newtown Creek began circa 1854-60 and accelerated rapidly, spurred by low land values, water access for ships and boats, and relative remoteness from populated areas or regulations. The first kerosene refinery in the United States (1854) and modern oil refinery (1867) helped transform Newtown Creek into an industrial waterway. The first few industries also included a distillery near the Newtown side of the Penny Bridge, and the Peter Cooper glue factory relocated from elsewhere in Greenpoint to a site in Bushwick north of Maspeth Avenue10. The influx of industry and jobs, aggressive real estate development in and around Hunter’s Point, including LIRR’s presence on the creek in 1861, and the explosive growth of refined petroleum products all enhanced Newtown Creek’s attractions and helped transform the drainage into an industrial waterway circa 1860-1880. At the Industrial Revolution’s height, Newtown Creek’s industries were flourishing, bringing thousands of people to work at its plants and factories.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The United States Coast Guard sometimes refers to Newtown Creek as part of “America’s Maritime Superhighway”, a vital industrial waterway which must be protected from the interests of those too short sighted to realize its potential to reinvigorate the economies of those communities through which it flows. It is the very definition of the future, and New York’s destiny is and has always been directly linked to it.

It’s heart warming to see clear eyed mariners like those onboard the Crystal Cutler plying its waters.

from nycppf.org

Significant Maritime and Industrial Area

Newtown Creek, at over 780 acres the city’s largest SMIA, abuts portions of the Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Long Island City, and Maspeth industrial areas. The waterfront area is characterized by heavy industry and municipal facilities, many of which are water- dependent. Newtown Creek is also the largest SMIA in terms of employment.

Although from 1992 to 2008 the SMIA lost roughly half its jobs, from 2000 to 2008 the number of jobs in the SMIA grew by nearly 1,400 to reach a total of approximately 15,000 jobs. Nearly half of the jobs in 2008 were in transportation and warehousing and wholesale trade. However, the business mix is becoming much more diverse. In the eight-year period examined, non-industrial jobs grew by more than 35 percent.

Project Firebox 33

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Somewhere in that part of Astoria north of the Grand Central and East of the tracks of the Hells Gate Extension is found this moribund character. An unnatural pallor and complexion distinguishes it, making it seem like the star of some Universal Horror movie of the 1930’s, with natural ruddiness only hinted at by its root. Loathe to complain despite a visage of gray and graffiti, this Firebox is nevertheless functional and ready to sound the alarum should some passing weather or torch bearing mob accidentally set fire to its charges in that atavist and triangular section of the ancient village which it is sworn to protect.

Soldier on, zombie firebox, soldier on.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 25, 2012 at 12:15 am

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