The Newtown Pentacle

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Just a short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, an excursion upon the fabled Newtwon Creek with the Anchor QEA folks (they’re the scientists studying the Creek for the Superfund process) and the Newtown Creek CAG Steering Committee (which I’m a member of) was cut short by threatening weather. Anchor has all sorts of frammistats onboard which warn them of the approach of lightning, and all the gizmos began to go off as a powerful thunderstorm was approaching. The shot above is from roughly 2.5 miles back from the East River, and depicts the DUGABO side of Brooklyn as the storm blew in. We made it back to dock, but not before the first curtain of rain and hail began to pummel the Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

all signs

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All we have to fear is fear itself, and I’m pissing my pants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like many Queensicans, when it was announced that this year’s July 4th fireworks would be taking place in the East River just off the coast of LIC, a humble narrator grew excited. Then one began to read about frozen zones (pretty much from 11th street to the East River) and homeland security. My enthusiasm for the event began to wane as the Terror Warriors descended from their Manhattan aeries, discussed throwing down cordons, announcing entry checkpoints, and throwing a cage over the entire neighborhood. One “gets it” of course, as our enemies from “east austral Asia” specifically target public events that draw media attention, which is the very definition of what the July 4th fireworks show is.

The thing is, and I’ve been pointing this out for years, is that there is very little actual “homeland security” going on the rest of the year around these parts, and the Terror Warriors spend most of their time in Manhattan offices dreaming up scenarios which could only be accomplished by Nation/States with vast combined weapon system resources and functionally unlimited budgets. If we were at war with the United States or the People’s Republic of China, for instance, I’d be pooping my pants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is not so irresponsible to point the actual vulnerabilities out in any detail, as some moron out there might decide to exploit them (do your own research), but if you see graffiti along a train track or in a subway tunnel – that’s called time and opportunity. It should be impossible, literally, to sneak into a train yard or even get close to a moving train nearly two decades into the Terror Wars.

Problem is that our security personnel tend to focus on the outlandish notion that non state actors, who are basically mafiosos, can not only maintain but deploy complicated weapons systems that most nation states cannot even hope to possess. Jackass sappers like the Boston Marathon bombers, whose presence and intentions are THE real threat, just don’t fire the imagination or finger the purse strings of Congress.

It’s all a show, ultimately, designed to assuage the nagging truth that some jerk pulling the pin on a dud hand grenade while riding on the 7 train would be sufficient to shut the entire Subway system down for weeks while the Terror Warriors installed metal detectors and biometric sensors on every turnstile.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think I’m just going to go up on my roof this year on the 4th of July, photographing the fireworks at a distance from almond eyed Astoria. One is not interested in being part of a compacted herd of spectators, who are all potential suspects, in LIC. I’ll be out and about on the 5th of July, and will wager that I won’t see a single cop or security contractor protecting the vital infrastructure found hereabouts. To me, that’s terrifying.

The big show will be over by then, and the Terror Warriors will be worrying about space based laser systems at BBQ’s on Long Island and in Westchester County. They’ll muse whether or not ISIL has perfected a tractor beam that can pull asteroids down on targets (that’s called a mass driver, btw.) or developed a neutron bomb.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 1, 2015 at 11:05 am

tricky twists

with one comment

Part of America’s Maritime Super Highway, Newtown Creek is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of my friends in the “human powered boating” community (kayakers, but they prefer the “human powered” nomen, and trust me on this – don’t argue with the kayak people, as they are kind of like a cult) had an event a couple of weeks back. Long Island City Boat House and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and a few Queens based organizations including Green Shores, paddled from Anable Basin on LIC’s East River frontage over to North Brooklyn Community Boat Club on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint and they asked me to get shots of them doing so.

Me, I’m a maritime industrial guy. Kayak shots ain’t my kind of thing, but if a friend asks for a favor…

After capturing their departure from Anable Basin, I headed over to the Boat Club in Brooklyn’s DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp) and along came the tugboat Dory. Whew, praise Superman.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A 1978 vintage tug, Dory is owned by Coastal Gulf and Marine Transport of Syossett, New York. You can find out all the details on her prior owners, tonnage, and onboard capabilities at the excellent tugboatinformation.com site. Dory was towing an empty barge eastward along the barge, and I would hazard the guess – based on the sort of barge unit employed – that they were heading for either Brooklyn’s Allocco recycling or Queens’ SimsMetal recycling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kayak Crew arrived, and the sun set over DUPBO. Pictured above is the Pulaski Bridge, and as the North Brooklyn Boat Club folks acted hospitably towards their guests from the North the sky grew dark.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, just as a humble narrator was packing up the lenses and camera, Dory returned and was towing a flat top barge while headed westerly towards the East River. Score!

As a note, it’s referred to as towing whether the tug is pushing or pulling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also, as a note, this whole environmental craze – epitomized by a tree growing from the Brooklyn side of the fabled Newtown Creek – tends to be ruinous in certain shots. Freaking nature, occluding the Empire State Building. Bah!

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

haunted steep

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At the Maspeth Plank Road, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the same morning walk described yesterday, wherein one was heading over to East Williamsburg from Astoria to conduct a walking tour of My Beloved Creek, I found myself at the Maspeth Plank Road.

Whenever possible, an attempt to scout the day’s intended route is enacted, to ensure against any of the little surprises which are known to pop up in the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek. Bridge closures, road work, chemical spills – you know, the usual.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I ran into this family of Canada Geese, whom I’ve been noticing all over the Creek for the last few weeks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too much I can tell you about this specie, other than that like swans – you don’t want to get too close to them. Geese can be mean tempered and vast physical cowardice notwithstanding, who wants to get pecked?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The gaggle seemed to take some umbrage at their unwanted portraiture, it seemed, and they headed back to the loathsome ripples of that cataract of urban neglect known as the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My decision to scout the route was actually quite fortuitous, as the Grand Street Bridge was closed. The NYC DOT was conducting some sort of repair job here, something about fixing the deck plating on the pedestrian walkways so that it could accommodate bicycle traffic. This, of course, directs vehicular flow onto the sidewalks and directly into the path of pedestrians, but priorities are priorities for City Hall.

NYC MUST REPLACE ALL SURFACE ROADS AND PEDESTRIAN PATHS WITH BIKE LANES, AT ALL COST, INCLUDING SACRIFICE AND TORTURE.

Also, AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

stinking shallows

with 2 comments

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

with 3 comments

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

with one comment

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.

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