The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Dutch Kills’ Category

stinking shallows

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The Turning Basin, and exit from Dutch Kills, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Turning Basin of Dutch Kills here in LIC is something I like to show photos of to my harbor pals who hang around in Manhattan. Usually, their jaws drop open when they witness the neglected bulkheads and ask me “where, exactly, is this?.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The west side of the Turning Basin abuts the property of a concrete company called NYCON. There’s an Elevator Mechanic’s Union Hall just across the street behind it on 28th, but life’s all ups and downs for those guys so the less said the better.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of the stuff you see floating around in the water here is actually deposited by the two large Combined Sewer Outfalls at the head of the canal, but there’s a significant contribution to the murk coming in from roadways and industrial properties. The LIE, for instance, drains directly into Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the east side of the canal is found a significantly undermined maritime bulkhead.

Said bulkheads are ones which whose owners – The American Warehouse Self Storage on 29th street – are anxiously attempting to repair, or so I’ve been told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the past, I’ve referred to these rotting apertures as “grottoes” and the term is apt. There’s a whole set of hidden chambers and voids beyond these openings which are cast in a permanent and quite sepulchral shadow. There are pale things which wriggle and flop and slide around inside of them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The former U.S. Crane building is currently owned by the Broadway Stages film production company, and my guess is that they will have to institute some set of repairs to their firmaments before too long. There are grottoes here as well, but one suspects that this is where the Hollywood agents commune with Father Dagon and Mother Hydra while sound stage production is underway within the structure. These agents are just a part of the population of wriggling, flopping, sliding things mentioned above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The creeping vines covering the water facing walls of the Broadway Stages building remind me of varicose veins, although ones which display a decidedly necrotic character. Notice the relict bollard up on the bulkhead, which would have once been used to tie off vessels of substantial size. Presumptively, the maritime ropes dangling from the structure are how the Hollywood Agents get up and down out of the grottoes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned at the beginning of this series, our presence on Dutch Kills was to ensure the delivery of a floating dock and the timing of the excursion was governed by low tide. Tick tock, tick tock, and it was time to exit stage south if we didn’t intend on waiting for the next water cycle to occur.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The distance between the water ceiling and the DB Cabin rail bridge was beginning to narrow, and we made for it with some urgency.

Lynne Serpe, who was providing motive power for our canoe through most of the trip, allowed me to take over for a while and we paused briefly for the shot above when the Freedom Tower came into view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While exiting back into the main stem of Newtown Creek, a humble narrator again put the paddle down for a moment to capture the fact that the guardian gaggle of Dutch Kills had degenerated down to a singular goose, and that some speciation had occurred while we were on the canal.

Perhaps the afternoon shift had arrived?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some sort of blue headed duck had arrived, which I’m sure the biology department of LaGuardia will describe in some detail in the coming months now that they have the dock which HarborLab prepared and delivered for them. Personally, I don’t trust any bird with a blue head, but that’s me.

Me and Lynn Serpe? We beat it back to the Vernon Avenue Street end which HarborLab calls home, and went our separate ways after exiting the canoe. For my part, a hasty trip to HQ in Astoria was enacted, whereupon a hot shower was immediately employed. My bathing ritual this time around, after Our Lady of the Pentacle found out what I had been doing, was reminiscent of certain scenes from the movie “Silkwood.”

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

listless drooping

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Ye Olde Dutch Kills in today’s eminently practicable post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior posts, one somehow found himself in a canoe on Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary a couple of weeks ago, recording the delivery of a floating dock by the HarborLab group to the waterways Turning Basin for the use of the faculty and students of LaGuardia Community College. The dock was paddled in by volunteers from HaborLab, and I was in a second canoe with a wonderful lady named Lynne Serpe. Water access to Dutch Kills is a rarity, so I took full advantage of the opportunity afforded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hunters Point Avenue is a 1910 vintage single bascule bridge which provides the gateway to Dutch Kills’s Turning Basin. 

Like Borden Avenue, Hunters Point Avenue was originally a late 1860’s era plank road cut through a swampy morass, which is often referred to in the historic record as either the “sunken meadows” or “waste meadows.” These meadows were reviled by the paleo Queensicans as being a great breeder of biting insects and a factory for waterborne pathogens like Typhus, Cholera, and Malaria. Famously, a series of studies by an environmental contractor of the United States Army Corps of Engineers back int he late 1990’s also recorded the presence of Gonnorhea in these waters – which is just charming.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are combined sewer outfalls on either side of the bridge, which has created a serious amount of segmentation around its footings. These sediments are near the surface, and at low tide the water can be measured in inches rather than feet around the bridge. The sediments are referred to as “Black Mayonnaise” by scholar and activist alike and they are a combination of industrial runoff, historic petroleum and coal tar pollution, and human excrement.

I did mention that I was in a freaking canoe, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Passing under the draw bridge – and yes, I have seen it open – the Turning Basin of Dutch Kills comes into view. The large white building is the former Loose Wiles Thousand Windows Bakery, showpiece of the Degnon Terminal. It’s currently building C of the LaGuardia campus.

The Dutch Kills Turning Basin, as the name suggests, was designed to allow articulated tug and barge combinations an area large enough to reverse direction, and back in the salad days of “America’s Workshop” there were barge to rail connections available at its terminus. Barges could unload cargo directly onto the rail cars of the Degnon Terminal Railway which also allowed siding access to Sunnyside Yards and the Long Island freight system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking south toward Hunters Point Avenue, the dock’s paddling crew were fighting a slight current. The low tide which allowed us to enter the canal by inching under the decrepit DB Cabin rail bridge was moving surface water back towards the main stem of Newtown Creek. It should be mentioned that this was a very weak sort of current, as the waters of Dutch Kills could be most accurately described as rising and falling in a vertical column with the tide rather than moving in and out in a lateral manner.

This tepid flow condition is a big part of the reason why the sedimentation along the waterway is so pronounced, and why the water quality is as horrible as it is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Regardless of current or sedimentation, the stout limbs of the HarborLab triad managed to guide the decidedly non hydrodynamic floating dock towards its destination along the western bulkheads of Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The owner of these bulkheads is cooperating with LaGuardia Communty College in its studies of the waterways. The property is occupied by a truck based business which doesn’t use their bulkheads, and some of the LaGuardia people’s plans for Dutch Kills are also being assisted by other area businesses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The HarborLab folks accomplished their mission, and began the unenviable task of securing the dock to a bulkhead with no anchored cleats to tie up to. Luckily, jagged bits of rebar were available. In tomorrow’s post, a few more views from the Turning Basin itself.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

grim facade

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More on the dock delivery dilemma at Dutch Kills with HarborLab, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once we passed under the derelict railroad swing bridge – DB Cabin – at the mouth of Dutch Kills, it was pretty much smooth sailing for the crew from HarborLab to steer the new dock designated for the usage of faculty and students from LaGuardia Community College to its destination. Dutch Kills is about a mile long, and flows back towards Sunnyside Yards in direction of Queens Plaza. In its primeval incarnation, this tributary of Newtown Creek once had several tributaries of its own, and fed a swampy wetland that was nearly 40 square acres in size. It terminated its navigable path at about 29th to 30th street and 40th avenue in the neighborhood of Dutch Kills.

That’s across the street from St. Patrick’s Romanc Catholic Church and around a block from where Jackson Avenue becomes Northern Blvd., if you need a landmark. The waterway was truncated to its current bulkheads in the first decades of the 20th century during the construction of the Sunnyside Yards, Queensborough Bridge/Queens Plaza, and the Degnon Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The second movable bridge over Dutch Kills is a single bascule rail bridge called Cabin M.

Before you ask, and I’m talking to you – George the Atheist – I have no idea where the naming convention on these bridges originates from, and would suggest that there is an enormous community of rail fans out there on the interwebs who could likely fill you in on every detail about the LIRR’s Montauk and Montauk Cutoff tracks.

Also, and this goes to GtA as well, check out that rusty patina.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking back at DB Cabin, for a view unavailable from the landward side. You can check both of these bridges out from Borden Avenue, but the view of DB Cabin is occluded by Cabin M.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As with all things LIC involving maritime industrial water, there is an advanced state of decay present here in the infrastructure. Rotting piles, remnants of an earlier time when clear eyed Mariners plyed these waters, abound.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Passing under Cabin M, the redoubtable Borden Avenue Bridge and the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway come into view. Borden Avenue, or at least this section of it, was constructed in the late 1860’s as a plank road for horse and donkey carts through the “sunken meadows” and was built to connect coastal Hunters Point (which was virtually an island back then) with upland properties in Blissville and Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accounts of the sorry condition of pack animals who crossed this plank road are found in historic anecdote. 

Horses, oxen, and donkeys were described as emerging from the low lying path – beginning their climb towards the Maspeth Plateau at Greenpoint Avenue – covered in a wriggling gray coat of mosquitoes and other biting insects. When the pests were brushed away from the pack animals, the critters were covered in a sheen of blood.

These insects were a plague even to the riders of the Long Island Railroad, who described what they perceived as smoke rising from hundreds of camp fires on evening trips along the tracks. The “smoke” was actually multitudes of insects rising into the air from watery nests. 19th century Queens was notorious for waterborne diseases like Cholera, Malaria, and Typhus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a succession of wooden structures that were called Borden Avenue Bridge, an iron swing bridge which carried trolley traffic was built in the late 19th century and removed in 1906. The modern bridge was opened in 1908, and it’s a retractile bridge. Retractile means that the roadway pulls back from the waterway, and the only other bridge of this type found in NYC is at Caroll Street, spanning the Gowanus Canal. Retractile Bridges are actually quite common in Chicago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Opened in November of 1940, the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway is some 106 feet over the water, and it is the “high speed” road that feeds traffic into the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In tomorrow’s post, we get to cross under the last movable bridge on Dutch Kills and enter the loathsome waters of the Turning Basin.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 11th, 2015 – TONIGHT
BROOKLYN Waterfront Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

jouncing descent

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The situations which I find myself in…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long story short, my pals at HarborLab ended up building a floating dock which will be used by LaGuardia community college’s biology people to study wetlands restoration techniques and theories on Newtown Creek’s LIC tributary – Dutch Kills. Problem is that a 19th century railroad bridge at the mouth of Dutch Kills has been non functional for about twenty years, so towing the dock into the canal in the manner that any normal person would accomplish the task – y’know, like using a boat with an engine to tow something heavy – is a non starter.

That’s how I found myself in a freaking canoe on Newtown Creek a few weeks ago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

HarborLab is based on the Queens side of Newtown Creek, at the Vernon Avenue Street end, which is where we launched from. I was in a boat with Lynn Serpe, long time environmental and community activist and the former Green Party candidate for City Council in Astoria, and one of the folks behind the Two Coves Community garden over in Old Astoria. Pictured above are Patricia Menje Erickson, HarborLab’s Facilities Manager, Erik Baard, and volunteer Phillip Borbon – who had the unenviable duty of rowing the dock itself roughly a mile back from the Vernon Avenue street end to the turning basin of Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The next few days will bring you an image saturated series of posts detailing the excursion. Dutch Kills leaves the main body of Newtown Creek a little over three quarters of a mile from the Creek’s intersection with the East River and heads northish in the direction of the Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza for about a mile. Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you that Dutch Kills is far and away my favorite part of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. Thing is, because of that decrepit rail bridge blocking the channel, you can’t get in there using a motorized vessel except at extreme low tide.

Low tide was part of the calculations made by the HarborLab team, and we timed our trip to coincide with it lest we be barred from entry or end up stuck in there waiting for the water to slack out again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One generally discourages the aspirations of people who want to do this sort of thing, given the horrendous state of water quality in Dutch Kills, but the HarborLab folks (along with my pals at North Brooklyn Boat Club) are well versed in the “rules of the road” in the maritime industrial waters of New York Harbor so I agreed to come along and record the journey.

After all, this was the first time something on Dutch Kills was going to change in nearly fifty years, with the exception of the Borden Avenue Bridge repairs from a few years ago. Sometimes, “Newtown Creek Historian” means you have to be there when something is happening in the name of preserving it for posterity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s how I ended up in a canoe on Newtown Creek photographing HarborLab delivering a floating dock to the Turning Basin of Dutch Kills. There were times when I had to actually row the boat, but luckily Lynn Serpe did most of the work, allowing me to wave the camera around. A couple of times, the radio crackled out instructions to get shots of them doing this or that or reminding me to shoot them with the skyline behind them.

Their radio crackled back with me saying “NO ART DIRECTION NEEDED.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What you’re looking at is part of the LIRR Montauk Branch, a swing bridge called DB Cabin. It’s not long for this world, as the LIRR and MTA are rekajiggering a bunch of their operations in LIC at the moment. The Wheelspur Yard actually has freight rail running through it again, for instance, and there’s been a lot of chatter about plans for the relict Montauk Cutoff tracks which has reached me recently.

Anyway – what DB Cabin mainly functions as these days is as an obstacle to navigation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the situation as we encountered it, at low tide mind you. There’s about four to five feet of clearance between the rusting deck of the bridge and the surface of that gelatinous analogue for water that distinguishes Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The dock sits up out of the water, of course, as did its pilots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First step was getting their own canoe into the water and hitching it up to the floating dock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then a bit of “paddle fu” was enacted, and they slipped under DB Cabin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As Lynne Serpe and I approached the bridge, we noticed an amused gaggle watching the progress.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In tomorrow’s post – we leave the geese behind and move inexorably towards the loathsome Turning Basin of a cautionary tale known as the Dutch Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 11th, 2015
BROOKLYN Waterfront Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

heavy boots

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Yeah, Happy Earth Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another Earth Day rolls around, wherein large numbers of happy little sophists will gather together in Manhattan Parks and congratulate themselves for separating their trash into “recycling” and “garbage” parcels. They will pat each other on the back, and claim that NYC is the “greenest” and most “resilient” of American cities. You won’t see any of them visiting LIC, or Greenpoint, Maspeth, or Bushwick, or Ridgewood. They won’t think about what happens after they flush their toilets, either.

Few, if any, will find themselves having arrived at the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t see the black waters of Newtown Creek’s tributary Maspeth Creek, or smell the battery acid odor of raw sewage as it is entering the waterway. They won’t comment on the illegal dumping, or the true nature and environmental impact of the recycling industry. Greater good, they would say, were they to leave Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Few will visit Dutch Kills at low tide, over in LIC. If they did, they would be forced to rationalize the rotten egg smell as being produced by anaerobic microbes. They wouldn’t puzzle over the neon colors of this tributary of Newtown Creek, whose mouth is .75 of a mile from the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t wander through the borderlands of Brooklyn and Queens to Ridgewood, and witness what the recycling process actually looks and smells like. They won’t worry about what they are breathing either.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Manhattan people like to feel as if they’re doing something to help the environment, and will do so in front of television cameras. They will make a show of discussing the banning of plastic grocery bags, or demand that NYC begins to compost its organics. They won’t realize that this composting has to be done somewhere within throwing distance of their Borough, and that it will carried by truck to some central receiving facility where it will be collected and stored whilst awaiting processing. They don’t know that this area will be somewhere along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They certainly won’t visit the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch line, and see the hundreds of filled cargo boxes that compose the “garbage train.” They won’t care that the concentrating point of roughly 30-40% of NYC’s garbage is found on the corner of Varick Street and Johnson Avenue, nor about the thousands of trucks which descend upon it daily.

So – Happy Earth Day, from Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

recalled bondage

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The Empty Corridor, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DULIE, or Down Under the Long Island Expressway in Long Island City, is actually quite a busy place during the work week. On the weekends, however, the nickname I’ve assigned the area is “The Empty Corridor.” Last Saturday I found myself wandering about LIC, which was on my way to Greenpoint via the Pulaski Bridge. The light was pretty good on Saturday, and the weather tolerable to one such as myself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been stuck in the house for so long that I recently found myself chiding Our Lady of the Pentacle for her arrangement of cutlery in the drying rack found alongside the sink (forks down, spoons up), and realized that hell or high water – I had to get out and take a long walk to regain some perspective. Viking Hell be damned. I’m happy to report that the cat colony alongside the UPS facility on 51st avenue seems to be in fine fettle despite the vagaries of winter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In actuality, I’ve been making good use of any interval wherein polar temperatures and ice falling from the sky were not experienced. The shot above is actually from Sunnyside, sometime last week. As mentioned in prior posts, I’ve been studying up on both Sunnyside and the rail yards which figure massively in the current Mayor’s plans for so called “affordable housing.” More on that later in the week.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

sorry planet

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Something else that’s kind of odd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills is currently a giant block of toxic ice, and I think the EPA is missing a big opportunity to just lift the water up and scrape away the black mayonnaise while the getting is good. That’s just a crazy idea, not the odd thing, however. This shot is looking south towards the estimable Long Island Expressway truss bridge over Dutch Kills, with the infinity of Brooklyn found just beyond the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking in the opposite direction, towards the Dutch Kills turning basin and the Degnon Terminal. This is a familiar view, of course, and one of my favorite points of view along the entire Newtown Creek. As you can see, there was a fresh layer of snow recently deposited. That’s where the odd thing comes in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tracks were observed in the fresh snow, some of which were easy to classify. These were clearly left by a web footed bird, likely a Canada Goose due to their size and indication of gait. Also could have been a large gull. That’s still not the odd part.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These tracks in the snow covering Dutch Kills, this is what was odd. Some of these repeating shapes can easily be chalked up to garbage rolling along the surface of the snow, driven about by the cold wind. As a fairly obvious note, I shot these differently than the photos at the top of the post, intentionally under exposing them and desaturating the color so as to capture the detail and render the textures of the snow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can explain away most of these oddly mechanical looking impressions in the snow. That curving series of parallels – that’s a shoebox sized box. One cannot, however, reconcile the series of circular impressions. The circular impressions – that’s what was really odd. Also, it was odd that I was out at all as it was something like ten degrees Fahrenheit outside.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

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