The Newtown Pentacle

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Breaking windows, on the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent controversy, and there’s always controversy, revolving around the Newtown Creek Superfund project has been swirling. Here’s the situation, which requires a bit of prologue for the uninitiated.

The Federal EPA has listed Newtown Creek as a Superfund site, which makes them the executive power responsible for its cleanup according to a bit of legislation called CERCLA. The EPA named several corporate entities as “PRP’s” or “Potentially Responisble Parties” who are culpable for the despoilment of the environment hereabouts. These PRP’s are the usual suspects – Oil companies, Gas Companies, a refinery. There are five of them, all conglomerate entities which absorbed one historic property or another over the years – ExxonMobil, National Grid, etc. There’s a sixth party which hasn’t been “officially” designated a PRP, which is the NYC DEP, a governmental entity responsible for (amongst other things) the sewer system of New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you’d expect, every one of the PRP’s wants to get out of this Superfund thing having spent as little as is possible on the cleanup. This is normal, and logical. The Corporations have an army of lawyers, and so does the DEP. Finger pointing is also normal in a situation like this, just as it would be for children who broke a school window while playing baseball. The corporate PRP’s are in the position of having to protect their shareholders from undue costs, as is the DEP in the case of taxpayers. Again, broken school window, baseball. The difference between government and corporation, however… well, the corporate manager will accept the fact that he’s cooked for breaking the pane and that it’s cheaper to just fix the window and get on with the business of earning money, while the government will try and tell you that the window shouldn’t have been there in the first place but the school they built needed windows by law so you just have to accept the broken window until next spring when the “new and better placed window bill” will be heroically sent to an indifferent Albany… and that after a sixteen year period of committee hearings… and… terrorists… and… Basically, they pass the buck down to the next election cycle. I’m prejudiced, I guess, as I always worked corporate and understand the internal processes a lot better than the intentionally Byzantine workings of government officialdom.

This is where the Federal EPA comes in, in their executive function. All of the PRP’s have contracted with environmental testing firms to perform the schedule of analysis which EPA requires in order to design a remedy for the environmental situation on the Newtown Creek. When the remedy is codified, it will be contractors hired by those self same PRP’s which will do the actual work, under Federal oversight. Meantime, everybody is blaming everybody else for whatever they can, hoping the other guy gets stuck with paying to fix the busted window.

A recent presentation offered by the NYC DEP discussed a process called “Ebullition.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Coal Tar Sludge is pretty ugly stuff, if you’re alive. It’s a by product of the gasification of coal, a product of what was once called “pneumatic chemistry.” National Grid is a multinational conglomerate that owns the holdings of what was once Brooklyn Union Gas in New York City. BUG had a massive manufactured gas plant at the border of Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. In the waters of Newtown Creek found off the National Grid bulkheads, NYC DEP’s environmental contractors observed an astounding 18 feet of coal tar sludge in the sediments of Newtown Creek. Natural processes – springs and ground water entering the bed of the waterway from below, for instance – cause bits of this coal tar sludge to migrate out of the sediment bed, which is called “Black Mayonnaise.”

The environmental types refer to this sort of thing as NAPL, or Non Aqueous Phase Liquid. That’s a fancy way of indicating that oil and water don’t mix, as the coal tar sludge – like petroleum – remains distinct from the water column surrounding it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is one of those bubbles of NAPL, or Coal Tar sludge which found its way to the surface of the water via the ebullition process. Surface tension breaks the bubble and begins to spread it into a disc. Presuming it doesn’t end up coating a bulkhead or rock somewhere between here and the East River, by the time this coal tar sludge reaches the east river it will just look like a bit of oil spread out over an area of several feet.

The NYC DEP, and their contractors, presented findings which suggested that as much as 5,000 KG of this stuff migrates up from the bottom sediments annually. They offered that in comparison, the combined sewers operated by DEP (which along Newtown Creek are amongst the largest in NYC) only deposit 27 KG of solute into the water. They also spent quite a bit of time critiquing the corporate PRP’s Contractor’s methodologies and procedures. After the presentation, it was time for questions and I asked a few pointed ones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Is this 18 feet of coal tar sludge an ongoing or historic event? 

“Good question” was the answer.

Given the fact that DEP has been paying fines on the combined sewers to the Feds since 1983, coincidentally the same year that DEP was created, you must have good records of what’s been flowing out of your pipes since then. That 27 KG number, how does it compare historically with those records?

“We’ll have to get back to you.”

I’m certain that – historically – some of that coal tar and petroleum in the sediment bed must have been carried into the water from upland sources via your pipes, when you observed this 18 foot high wall of coal tar sludge, did you notice if any of your out falls were nearby?

“The sewers have never carried oil, it’s illegal”

But what about the 1950’s when Greenpoint’s aquifer was on fire, and the sixties when manhole covers were erupting on gouts of flame, and the 80’s when it was discovered that petroleum fumes in the sewer pipes were above the upper explosive limit?

“Sir, I don’t know what you think the DEP has done to you, but on behalf of the Agency I’d like to apologize”

That’s called “crackpotting” btw. and that pissed me off.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Are the folks who run oil companies a bunch of bastards? You bet. Global Gas conglomerates are not operated by nice guys either, nor copper refineries. Know how Rockefeller made his money? Wasn’t by being a cool guy. Anybody in a position of real power is by definition “kind of a dick.” Obama would pull your tongue out and strangle you with it if he had to, but he doesn’t because there’s thousands of people who work for him that are specially trained to do so. Just because you work for the Government it doesn’t mean you’re some sort of altruist.

I cannot count the number of lies I’ve been told by employees of the NYC DEP over the years. Promises made last only as long as a Commissioner’s term, or a Mayor’s. Saying that, this is just one tiny sliver – the political and managerial department of the Agency – of an enormous 6,000 person organization which manages and polices the reservoirs, runs 14 sewer plants, possesses a small navy, handles air and noise environmental issues citywide, and has a $1.2 Billion budget. I’ve known people who work for the DEP that are amazing, and I’ve also met the political gasbags.

This is not some little mom and pop operation, the DEP.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, what the DEP management team is trying to do is to reduce their exposure to having to pay out for the cleaning up of the so called “Black Mayonnaise” which sits 20-30 feet deep in the Newtown Creek, and I can’t say I blame them. Like any entity, corporate or otherwise, they will have to pass the costs of this operation on to their customers.

Unlike a corporation, which would be put into a competitive advantage should it be forced to raise prices and drive customers to a competitor’s cheaper products, there is unfortunately only one City government to be found and you just have to pay the taxes that they inflict. There is no political will to raise water taxes in NYC after a roughly 400% rise in rates which occurred during the 12 years of Michael Bloomberg’s administration… so… do the math. The DEP people will say and do anything to avoid culpability, or delay the inevitable as long as they can and pass the buck to some new Mayor or Commisioner.

Crackpot me? Don’t piss off the photographer, doc, I’ve got pictures to back my side up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a saying which was passed down to me by my Dad and Uncles who had served in the military – “It’s a big shit sandwich and we all have to take a bite, so grab a napkin.”

Since the Superfund listing for Newtown Creek was made public, a humble narrator has been prophesying that the most interesting part of this story wasn’t going to be the oil companies trying to snake out of town and deny responsibility. Simply put, that’s the expensive way to go for them, as the courts and Feds will just stack fines up on them which they’ll have to pay IN ADDITION to the costs of the cleanup. It’s simpler, and cheaper, to cooperate. Nope, since the beginning of this tale I’ve been saying that “the fascinating part of this story will be watching the vertical silos of power in NYC’s government struggle and writhe against a higher authority.” Local authority, even that juggernaut in lower Manhattan, legally collapses before that of the Federal Government.

The EPA said that they’re willing to consider DEP’s Ebullitions study, and it’s data, but won’t be basing their decisions on either local government or corporate side’s assertions. The same DEP official who “crack potted” me in the earlier discussion mentioned above, upon hearing the EPA pronounce the substance of this statement, announced to a room full of people that DEP’s data “is just as good, if not better, or far better than EPA’s.” This is from the same official who claimed that it wasn’t going to be Superfund that cleans the Creek, rather DEP’s Long Term Control Plan – which is being designed by the same “ass coverers” and bureaucrats who haven’t done squat about it since the agency was created in 1983 by merging several smaller municipal entities which were responsible in the first place for dumping raw sewage into the waterway every time it rains.

Anyway, that’s the whole Ebullition thing for you, and a bunch of PRP’s who broke a window while playing ball. The one who threw the ball, the one who hit the ball, and the rest of the field. Meanwhile the window is hanging wide open and it’s raining into the school.

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Bulkheads of the Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, you saw a post about a Hindu statue found in a fairly obscure spot in Maspeth along the Newtown Creek at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Mentioned in that post, a couple of my Newtown Creek chums and I were out in a small boat and performing a bulkhead survey. What that means, and it’s something we Newtown Creek Alliance types do periodically, is that we do a close up observation of the armored shoreline. Armored is apt, as the Newtown Creek’s littoral zone is almost entirely covered in a variety of maritime structures which are referred to as “bulkheads.”

Some are designed for docking ships and boats, or tying up barges, others simply as barriers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of the shoreline along the Creek has lost its occupation over the last century, as business adopted a truck and automobile based model for shipping cargo. Lack of maintenance and the corrosive forces of nature have caused the bulkhead structures all over the Newtown Creek to decay. Some have collapsed. When a bulkhead has actually fallen apart, as seen above and below, it is considered to have become “habitat” by environmental officialdom.

Close inspection reveals what sort of life forms have taken up habitation in the cracks and fissures of what were once amongst the most valuable maritime bulkheads on Earth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All sorts of colony critters – lichens, molds, algae – are seen, for instance. They infest the flood zone, which is exposed and hidden by the tidal cycle. Wooden bulkheads along the Creek generally date back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. This wood would have been treated with something like Creosote Oil to guard against infiltration by insects and smaller parasites. Creosote Oil was a by product of the gasification of Coal, one of the many, many commercial products which emanated from the pursuit of so called “Natural Gas.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit higher up in the tide line, and a rip rap shoreline. Rip Rap is basically a series of small boulders and large rocks which are dumped along shorelines. The good news about this sort of tidal liner is that it offers a tremendous amount of surface area for the aforementioned colony creatures to attach to, as well as macro organisms like barnacles, clams, and oysters to grab onto. The bad news is that there’s a lot of concrete included amongs the rocks and boulders, and as concrete decays the lime in it causes the water’s ph to rise and become acidic.

There’s also lots of “mystery pipes” that emerge from the shoreline hereabouts, as depicted above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The National Grid company, which operates an LNG distribution and storage operation at the former Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas Plant site in Greenpoint, doesn’t allow docking at its bulkheads. Accordingly, they erected a wooden shield all along the edge of their property. This sort of thing is actually a gigantic box driven into the mud that is filled with rip rap. The wooden planks provide ample attachment sites for colony critters and filter feeders.

This is a part of the Newtown Creek which is referred to as “The Turning Basin” and it is an engineered wide spot designed to allow a tug and articulated barge enough room and depth to be able to safely reverse course on the otherwise narrow waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A close up of a colony of Mussels attached to the National Grid bulkhead. One of NCA’s science people, a certain radical biologist, coined the term “Kidneys of the Creek” for filter feeders like this. Each mussel is able to process “x” number of gallons of water, and remove “y” amount of solute from it. Of course, this means that the Mussel itself becomes a concentrated blob of toxicity, but the sort of Mussels you commonly encounter on Newtown Creek aren’t the species which are part of the human food chain.

On the Creek, it’s the fish and crabs. The fish and crabs which people catch, and then eat, that they gather from Newtown Creek. Yes, you did just read that. The Federal EPA has confirmed this fact.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You encounter masonry rising out of the water, which is capped by concrete, in many spots. This particular spot is about three miles from the East River. There are lots and lots of apertures in the shoreline here, and lightless chambers and flooded voids which recede beneath the “land’s” surface. The word “land” is in quotation as the area which touches the water, with just a few exceptions, was primevally a swamp or at best a flooded marsh. There is no true land, certainly on the Queens side, for a good half mile back from the present day shoreline. It’s all landfill, of the 18th and 19th century variety mainly – rubble, domestic and agricultural waste, ashes and cinders from furnaces and residential hearths. The areas around Grand Avenue, Maspeth Creek, and Dutch Kills, were largely reclaimed in the early 20th century and the ground is filled with more modern crap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearby the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, Brooklyn side, a bulkhead of the same variety enjoyed by National Grid is in the process of collapsing and you can discern the internal structure of the thing. A creosote oil treated wooden box filled with rip rap. Self seeded, the plants you see are thorned and I can attest that those spikes will easily find your tender skin if you venture close enough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A little further to the west, on the Brooklyn side foundations of what was once called Penny Bridge, nearby the pipe which ExxonMobil returns water to the Creek which was extracted from their Greenpoint Oil Spill remediation efforts. I cannot tell you why anybody decided to hang razor barbed wires from bits of cord, but this improvised filtering technology does seem to be removing “floatable” pollution from the water in an admirable fashion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Bulkhead Survey is something we Newtown Creek Alliance folks do from time to time, in pursuance of our mission to “reveal, restore, revitalize” the waterway. It’s a lot more fun than sitting in a bunch of meetings and arguing with regulators and corporate types, I can tell you. We don’t do the former it all that often, whereas the latter seems to be at least once every couple of weeks, but there you go.

My job in this sort of endeavor is to sit sideways in the boat and take a series of pictures, one shot is popped off every time I count to five mississippi, depending on how fast the boat is moving.

Ideally, we go out at low tide, when all the poisons hidden in the mud hatch out and stand revealed beneath the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself – along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

systemic horror

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An altar to Lord Dattatreya, at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, which was the only day in Decemeber that has actually felt – climatologically – like December, one found himself in the company of a couple of my Creek chums in a small boat on Newtown Creek. We saw something odd while out on the poison waters.

Our excursion was launched in pursuance of surveying certain bulkheads in an area defined by the former Penny Bridge and the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. We were literally studying the Creek, and I was along to gather photographs for further inspection at a later date – this is the sort of sinister stuff we get up, in Newtown Creek Alliance. Our survey of the study area was completed, a loop through the East Branch tributary was enacted, and we were headed west towards a dock at North Brooklyn Boat Club nearby the Pulaski Bridge in Greenpoint.

That’s when one of my companions asked if I’d seen “the statue.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Restaurant Depot company, a wholesaler which supplies commercial food establishments, sits on part of the former Phelps Dodge property in Maspeth. Their property is lined with industrial piers which have seen better days, but which were stoutly constructed and you can still observe rail tracks adorning them. In a couple of spots, the piers have decayed or collapsed, and there are little wooden bays amongst the piles.

That’s where the statue is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The style of the thing is clearly southeast Asian, and specifically subcontinental. Given the reach and spread of Indian culture, which is far flung, it’s often difficult to say “Indian” as opposed to “South East Asian.” The statue, however, displayed certain details which betrayed its stylistic and ritual origins, and after a bit of research – the specifics of its representation.

How it ended up in the littoral zone at the former Phelps Dodge property on Newtown Creek in Maspeth is anyone’s guess. I’ve long stopped asking these sort of questions on the Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The statuary was around three to four feet in height, and seemed to be made from molded concrete. It depicts Lord Dattatreya, who is a well known member of the Hindu Pantheon. The particulars of the statue are that it represents the Hindu trinity of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva – which members of the faith refer to as the Trimurti.

Note – if I get something wrong here, my Hindu friends, please offer correction in the comments section: 

Dattatreya is a primordial figure in Indian culture, and is mentioned in the Mahabharata – an epic holy text whose origins are nearly prehistoric. Mahabharata scholars believe its texts were originally written between 800 and one thousand BCE, making it a 2.5-3,000 year old holy book which is coincidentally the longest epic poem ever written at nearly two million words. Mahabharata is as culturally significant a text as the Christian Bible or the Quran, and offers spiritual guidance to what probably boils down to as much as a quarter of all living humans.

Dattatreya veneration was ancient when the Mahabharata was written, and the deity was originally represented with one head. Dattatreya came from the Deccan Plains in South Eastern India, which is one of the cradles of human civilization. The Trimurti version of the deity, seen above, has six arms and three heads. That’s Brahma on the statue’s left, Vishnu in the center, and Shiva on the statue’s right. The hands are all meant to be holding symbolic weapons and icons of these deities. The cow is sacred to Vishnu, and although it’s not terribly clear in the representation above, there are traditionally four dogs on a Dattatreya statue. Hindu scholars debate the meaning of the dogs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the Vedic religious traditions began, Dattatreya was reconsidered as an avatar of the Trimurti. About a thousand years ago, it became common practice to represent the deity as three headed. Certain Hindu sects revere Dattatreya as a supreme being singularly, with others placing him near the top of the food chain in the pantheon, but still subordinate to Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. His sister is Chandra, who is the moon goddess.

One can merely speculate as to the presence of the statue in the tidal zone of Newtown Creek, and as to what sort of congregants might rise from the water to worship before it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, our party was out on the water performing a bulkhead survey, and we were in search of something far more modern and mundane than an ancient Indian God. Controversy in the Superfund community has recently involved discussion of “Manufactured Gas” and the ebullition (reverse dripping) of coal tar sludge from subaqueous pockets in the sediment up to the surface. This has resulted in a humble narrator “getting smart” about the waste materials which the manufactured gas industry spewed out. Coal tar, and coal tar sludge, were – by far – the most abundant material that arose from the retorts and distillation equipment of the industry, but were hardly the only noxious material produced.

We were searching for “blue billy” amongst the rip rap shorelines of the lugubrious Newtown Creek, which is “spent lime” that had become infiltrated by ferrocyanide compounds during the industrial gasification of coal. There was no aftermarket for this material, and more often than not it was just dumped. Examining photographs of “blue billy,” my cohorts in NCA and I all remarked on how familiar it seemed, and set out to find some.

Instead, we found an Indian God.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2015 at 11:30 am

antique forms

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Visiting with the Alsops, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Roman Catholic Church purchased the land which would become LIC’s Calvary Cemetery back in 1848 from the Alsop family, who had inhabited it since the time of the Dutch decadence. The first Alsop on the land was a fellow named Thomas Wandell, who had ran afoul of Lord Protector Cromwell back in England and decided his best move was to hide out in the American colonies, specifically the ones which ran the flag of the Staten Generaal up the pole. The property was occupied during the American insurrection by none other than Lord Cornwallis and General Howe, and the experience of the Alsops regarding the forced quartering of troops and the damages inflicted on home and hearth by Hessian and Dragoon alike actually helped inform the Constitution of the United States’s ban on the practice. By 1848, the family line had dispersed and there was only one full blooded Alsop left in Queens. His estate sold the property to the Church, with the provision that the Catholics would maintain – in perpetuity – the Alsop family graveyard within the larger cemetery.

The Alsop plot is a theoretically unique place upon the earth, a Protestant graveyard entirely enclosed within a Catholic one. This doesn’t sound like too big a deal to modern ears, but back in the 1700’s, the Protestant Reformation and the Eighty Years War were still pretty present in people’s minds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Protestant Reformation, incidentally, is the filter by which one such as myself processes the news of the day. When you’re reading about insurgents and terrorists in the Middle East, it’s hard not to think that “those people” are savages and barbarians. That’s because… well, this post is written in English… Europe’s experience with this sort of thing has sort of faded into the historical firmament.

Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church back in 1521, which is coincidentally the same period in which Catholic Spain conquered the Mexica Aztec culture and appropriated an enormous quantity of precious metals and wealth from them. Churches in Spain, to this day, have a lot of Mexican silver worked into their ornamentation. What the Spanish Crown did with most of that silver, though, was fund the war against the Protestant crowns who followed Luther into the cold. It’s how they paid for the Spanish Inquistion, and the Counter Reformation, and it’s how Holland and the Netherlands ended up becoming independent countries after fighting their way out of the Hapsburg empires.

Europe, for a bit more than a century, was ripped apart by the religious wars. Famine, plague, all that good stuff was the result. Ultimately, the Thirty Years war between 1618 and 1648 ended up killing something like 25-40% of what modernity refers to as Germany.

At the end of it, the Crowns of Europe set up authoritarian states which brooked no dissidence and strictly controlled religion, printing, and what we would call “free speech.” The Dutch, and later the English, both began sending their religious zealots to the colonies in the Americas in an effort to try and keep the peace back home.

These zealots – Anabaptists, Puritans, Quakers – even Cromwell himself – were considered to be dangerous and it was best to make them go away. The reformation and its wars were bad for business and everyone agreed that a predictable future was better than the inverse, so the Kings grew ever more powerful in the name of stability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Remember too, that 500 years ago, what we know as “Europe” was considered a violent backwater. The royalty were essentially the descendants of inbred motorcycle gangs who had ridden into a city and taken over by force of arms. Death came swiftly for the common people, as any infraction of the rules set down by these undereducated masters incurred reprisals that the ISIS people would be very comfortable with. After the Protestant Reformation’s wars had run their course, Europe entered into a period which is referred to as “the enlightenment” during which the winners of the reformation game consolidated feudal holdings they’d won control over into nation states whose names are familiar to modern ears – France, for instance. The countries which were never burned by the fires of these wars remained feudal duchys of the Catholic Church until quite late in the game – Italy comes to mind.

The absolute monarchs who ruled these new “national” territories were tyrants, so much so that the merchant classes of Europe – the so called Bourgeoise – began to pick up stakes and follow the zealots over to the Americas.

These Bourgeoise, who were heavily influenced by the Freemasons philosophically, are the people who led the revolutions against the European Monarchs, and the influence of the very conservative Catholic Bishops, and who set about trying to create Nation States which would operate in “rational” and “scientific” ways.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What’s happening today in the Middle East is not entirely unlike the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants were religious fundamentalists driven to violent action by tyrannical and unfair governments who were supported by a clergy that supported and reinforced the power of the tyrants – those motorcycle gangs mentioned above. The Spanish empire was ruled by the Hapsburg family, who also controlled what would one day be called the Austro Hungarian Empire but at the time was called the “Holy Roman Empire.” Both Catholic and Protestant militarized and controlled vast resource bases, and when the Spanish hit the jackpot in Mexico – things flew into high gear. Genocide was an official policy back then, and the reason that the Crusades were abandoned wasn’t entirely because of the rising power of the Ottomans. It was because the Crusades were being aimed at the Albigensians and Cathars in France and what we would call Germany.

As Americans, we are the inheritors of a particularly Anglophile point of view. The fact that this POV exists at all is because the Spanish Armada never made it to the Thames.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For a straight up history of the Alsops, check out this post presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle – back in 2011. Institutional memory is something that I constantly rattle on about. Something has gone wrong with our culture – it just might be Facebook – in recent years. A scandal or tragedy occurs, and everybody acts as if it’s something that’s happening for the first time. Ignorance of history seems willful, which breeds a sense of fatalism on the part of many. The world is not going to hell in a hand basket, rather, it’s been there before.

How did the Europeans solve the religious wars which decimated them for nearly 150 years? Totalitarian governments and absolute monarchy, that’s how, which sparked the age of colonialism. How did they solve that? Republics and representational democracy. Where that led – the second thirty years war – WW1 and 2. Which led to the Cold War…

I’ve got to stop hanging out in cemeteries, because places like the Alsop plot are how every story ends.

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cyclopean endeavor

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Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridges Onramps – DUKBO – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Around two weeks ago, Newtown Pentacle presented a pair of postings (this, and that) showing the progress of the Brooklyn side of the Kosciuszko Bridge construction project. I was invited to walk through the site by the NYS DOT, along with other members of the “Stakeholders Advisory Committee,” and the photos captured during the walk populated the posts. Today, the Queens side of DUKBO.

It should be mentioned that I didn’t enter the site for these, and just creeped around the fences on Thanksgiving weekend. It would have been a simple thing to enter the deserted site, of course, but the Newtown Pentacle way is to never trespass. I’m like a vampire, and have to be invited in before I do my work. Luckily, you don’t need an invitation to walk down the sidewalks of Queens in the direction of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These are the 1939 era bridge’s concrete approaches, as seen from Laurel Hill Blvd., which is the eastern border of Calvary Cemetery. The street that’s all ground up into gravel is “used to be 54th avenue.” “Used to be” is an apt adjectival phrase, as when the new bridge is finished several of the existing streets will have been relocated and the geometry of the street grid will be altered to accommodate the new structure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you can see, security is tight as a drum here in Blissville. Nobody over 350 pounds would be able to get through this gap. It’s at times like these that my “no trespassing” rule really grates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking down Laurel Hill Blvd. to the south. That’s Calvary Cemetery on the right of the shot, and the redoubtable 1939 Robert Moses version of the Kosciuszko Bridge on the left. Moses convinced LaGuardia that the old Penny Bridge, which crossed Newtown Creek from the end of Meeker Avenue in Brooklyn and connected to Review Avenue in Queens, would be insufficient to handle the traffic load which the 1939 Worlds Fair in Corona would create. He proposed the “New Meeker Avenue Bridge,” which LaGuardia agreed to. Moses then argued that without the 2.1 miles of high speed approach roads, the money spent on the bridge would be wasted. LaGuardia agreed again. Moses then expanded the approaches, on one side to connect to his “Grand Central” Parkway and Mighty Triborough, and on the other to connect via Meeker Avenue to Grand Street, he also created something LaGuardia did not agree to in the bargain. What would become the “Brooklyn Queens Connecting Highway,” something we refer to in modernity as the “Brooklyn Queens Expressway.”

Clever one, that Moses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing under the Kosciuszko Bridge at 54th road – a corrugated fence which used to be part of an NYPD towing impound lot allowed for a quick view of the “House of Moses.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By the end of 2017 (if I remember the schedule accurately), this will be an enormous demolition site. All the steel will be coming down in sections, and the cyclopean concrete piers will be chipped away. The stripping away of the central span of the Kosciuszko Bridge promises to be quite an exciting sight.

Essentially, they are going to bring in maritime cranes which will affix supports to the truss section in the center, cut it away from its supports with torches, and then lower it onto a platform composed of several barges. Multiple tugboats will guide it away, heading in a westerly direction down Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing under the Kosciuszko Bridge via 54th road onto “used to be” 43rd street, the now familiar masonry of the BQE overpass appears. The roadway will be considerably lower here, in comparison to the old setup. Not really sure how much I like that, actually. It’s going to be bringing the close to 200,000 vehicles a day that cross the thing down to nearly street level. Noise, exhaust, etc. It’s higher on the Brooklyn side.

Oh well… welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself… right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is “used to be” 54th drive, and you can see the new concrete supports for the Kosciuszko Bridge approaches are coming along nicely. If you refer back to the two posts from the Brooklyn side linked to in the first paragraph, you can check out what this area will look like probably 6-8 months into 2016. The deck roadway will ride along on the top of this piers, rising to the cable stay supported section spanning Newtown Creek.

On the other side of the concrete structures are a bunch of office trailers which house the administrative and engineering staff for the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko Bridge project is striking its path through the former location of the Phelps Dodge company, on a patch of land which was once adjudicated as being “too toxic to park empty United States Postal Trucks on.” Phelps Dodge is a NYS Superfund site, and the company is one of the “potentially responsible parties” named in the Federal Superfund listing of Newtown Creek itself. Incidentally, Phelps Dodge and their copper refining operations were pretty much a 20th century thing, they inherited the property after a merger with a chemical conglomerate that had been here since the 1830’s.

The State Bridge people have made it a point of mentioning that they’re able to deal with the environmental stuff, but that it’s an immensely complicated situation. There’s a sign on the fence that says “Hazwoper.” I mentioned this signage to my Union laborer neighbor Mario during conversation about the project, which caused the big fellow to utter a “woof” sound, followed by “Hazwoper Zone, bro, woof.”

The entire project is an immensely complicated situation, actually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine building a bridge, next to an existing one which carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over a heavily polluted maritime industrial waterway found in the dead bang center of NYC. Imagine that this waterway was where the oil refining industry, and the manufactured gas industry, and the waste disposal industry, and the chemical industry, and the Long Island Railroad, all figured themselves out. Refineries, distilleries, waste transfer stations, open sewers… Ok? Got it?

Ok, so you finish the bridge, and reroute the highway onto it. Ok. Now you have to demolish the old bridge and cart it away. Now, you get to start on building the second half of the new bridge, and then reroute the highway again to take advantage of the completed bridge.

Ahh… my beloved Creek!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot looks north, from the “will continue to be” Restaurant Depot Parking lot. Most NY’ers are surprised at how much of the food they eat has spent some of its journey to their colons at Newtown Creek, but a humble narrator has reached the age where his innermost psychology can best be described as “a severe and apathetic form of nihilism,” so nothing really surprises me anymore. I don’t buy sausages in supermarkets, as an example of how this numbed acceptance of the world we live in informs my days and tortures my nights.

As you’ll notice, the shots depict concrete still being formed into the columns, and rebar sticking out of a few of them. The Brooklyn side is a bit further along, I’m told it was a bit more complicated on the Greenpoint side due to the rerouting of the BQE over Meeker Avenue, and the presence of dense populations surrounding the road.

In Maspeth, here on the Queens side, there were just two or three private homes and a few warehouse sized businesses. The various entities, hereabouts, were recompensed for their properties by the State and assisted with relocation to parts unknown. Or they might now be sausages in a freezer at a Costco. You’ll never know… which brings me back to the whole nihilism thing. There you go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle often reminds me that whereas everything in the shot above is familiar to me, I shouldn’t make the assumption that everyone reading this enjoys the same visual catalog as my creek chums and I do.

This shot looks towards the west, where you can see the Empire State Building over in Manhattan. Out of sight, not mind, the tracks of the LIRR Montauk line are aimed directly at midtown Manhattan and are travelling under the bridge and along the tree line. The wooded section, on the right, is Calvary Cemetery. Just beyond those concrete blocks is part of the Phelps Dodge site, and the truss section of the 1939 Kosciuszko Bridge is overflying Newtown Creek and traveling out of frame at top left – or south.

Just keeping y’all in the loop, here in DUKBO, Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridges Onramps.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

leftward fork

with 3 comments

Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridges Onramps – DUKBO, part 2 – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in my last post, a visit to the NYS DOT’s Kosciuszko Bridge project site was arranged for members of the “Stakeholders Advisory Group” that is connected to the project. Community members, business owners, representatives of municipal agencies and elected officialdom, the SAG’s job is to bring concerns to the attention of the project managers of the K Bridge project. Anyone interested in finding out more about the project straight from the source, or who feel that they should be involved, can contact the Community Liason’s office.

There’s all sorts of job opportunities available on the project as well, for those of you involved with the trades, but quite obviously that’s not something a humble narrator can help you out with.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the left side of the shot above is the Robert Moses 1939 era “New Meeker Avenue” Bridge, which was rechristened in 1940 as the Kosciuszko Bridge. Its original purpose, as far as Mayor LaGuardia was concerned, was to allow egress for the multitudes of Brooklyn to the 1939 Worlds Fair over in what we refer to as “Flushing Meadow Corona Park.” For Moses, it was the first link in a chain which he originally called the “Brooklyn Queens Connecting Highway” which modernity knows as the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

Technical note – the Gowanus Expressway actually was the first part of the modern BQE to be built, but my understanding is that Moses didn’t intend for it to be part of the BQE – it was incorporated into the larger expressway when the Verazzano was being built.

That’s my understanding, I might be incorrect, so “grain of salt.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn side of the Newtown Creek enjoys a rather shallow firmament, as a craton which underlies this section of western Long Island – essentially an enormous glacial erratic or boulder – is only about sixty to seventy feet below the surface and sits at a fairly oblique angle relative to the land.

The Queens side is basically a giant pile of mud more than a hundred feet deep, and the bedrock craton on the northern or Queens side of the Creek is more difficult to access. The original or 1939 Kosciuszko Bridge piers on the Queens side are essentially founded on concrete blocks floating in this mud. The new bridge will be anchored in the bedrock instead. (This, incidentally, isn’t something I know from the SAG, rather its “history” stuff).

The piles seen above are in various stages of being driven down to the craton – or bedrock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As we neared the shoreline of Newtown Creek, I mentioned to several people that this was one of the spots which I had never actually set foot upon. There used to be a carting company here which was… let’s just say that they didn’t like people with cameras wandering around, and that the few times which I did approach their fencelines over the years resulted in my being literally threatened by several mustachioed people with a distinctly Italian variant of the North Brooklyn accent. As I often say, I only run when someone or something is chasing me, and after meeting these fellows I was running.

The metallic box pictured above was a pretty cool thing, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new Kosciuszko Bridge is going to be a “cable stay” bridge, the first of its kind in NYC. The device pictured above is what the cables will be running through. The cables will leave their anchorage and climb up and over the towers, feeding down to and supporting the roadway over the water. This is a pretty important bit of kit, obviously, as the BQE carries a couple of hundred thousand vehicles a day over Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking towards West Maspeth’s border with Blissville near Calvary Cemetery, across the lugubrious Newtown Creek. The Queens side of the job is on schedule, but the process isn’t quite as far along on the north shore. You can see the piers which will carry the road, but the towers which will support the cables haven’t been erected yet.

There’s a whole lot of environmental “ugly” in the shot above, the ground to the right is part of the Phelps Dodge State Superfund site. The sediments in this section of the Newtown Creek are rife with organocoppers and all sorts of bad stuff, which is why the water and what lies below is part of the Federal Superfund site, and not too long ago it was determined that the chemical condition of the land at Phelps Dodge was too extreme for it to serve as a parking lot for USPS trucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking up the dizzying heights of the two concrete towers of the Brooklyn side, which are still rising. There were gangs of laborers working up there, who are clearly made of sterner stuff than I. I’d need the Fire Department to come rescue me, as paralysis would set in due to the height.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking back towards the south/south west, along the ramps of the Kosciuszko Bridges. You can really see the difference in the two spans’ deck heights in the shot above. The DOT folks tell me that this is to ensure a smoother experience for drivers, as they won’t have to crest quite as high an incline. Additionally, the BQE will no longer compress to three lanes from four and then back to four again on the new bridge. There is also meant to be an entirely dedicated approach to the Long Island Expressway when the job is finished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our visit over, the Stakeholders Advisory Group was escorted back to Meeker Avenue, where we turned in our hard hats and other safety gear.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 23, 2015 at 11:00 am

brought up

with 5 comments

Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridges Onramps – DUKBO – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other day, Tuesday the 17th to be exact, one found himself wearing an orange vest and a hard hat with a Skanska logo on it in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

I’m a member of the Stakeholders Advisory Group for the Kosciuszko Bridge project, and we had been invited out by the NYS DOT for an inspection of the massive construction site. These are fairly exclusive shots, incidentally, and this post will be the first of two describing what I saw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko project involves not just the construction of a new K bridge, and the demolition of the 1939 original, but the rerouting and redesign of the 2.1 miles of approach roads.

These roads include the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the notoriously problematic cloverleaf exchange the BQE has with the Long Island Expressway. The project is being run by the NYS Department of Transportation, and executed by a partnership between Skanska, AECOM, and Kiewit. Skanska is the managing partner for the two phase project, the first part of which (half the new bridge, roadwork, and demolition of the original) is budgeted at $550 million.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a massive Union Labor kind of job, and it seemed that every trade organization was present on site. These fellows were iron workers, installing the rebar which would provide structural support for the concrete deck of the BQE. The concrete guys were getting busy about a quarter of a mile back, incidentally, filling in the steel webbing that these guys were building.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another team of laborers were observed lowering structural steel into place on one of the overpasses for the highway. The sections of the new bridge currently under construction are slightly to the east of the current roadway and bridge. When this phase of the project is complete, traffic will be shifted over to it, and the 1939 Kosciuszko and BQE will be demolished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once demolition is complete, phase two will see the westerly half of the new Kosciuszko and BQE built. According to the officials from DOT we were with, the project is slightly ahead of schedule and they are confident they’ll meet the 2017 goal date for the opening of the new bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ramp leading to the bridge is nearing Newtown Creek, but isn’t quite there yet. The ramps sit on a series of concrete piers supported by columns which rise hundreds of feet from a section of DUKBO which I’ve often referred to as the “Poison Cauldron.” Down below, there’s a series of realigned local streets which are currently off limits due to the construction.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking back to the south, the construction guys were hard at work. This is a massive undertaking, the sort of thing you don’t see that often in New York City, or at least not since Robert Moses was kicked out of power.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down on “used to be Cherry Street” we headed north towards Newtown Creek, pausing periodically for the laborers to finish up a task. Above, a crew was moving soil around, and grading the surface.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ramp for the BQE comes into view as you approach “used to be Anthony Street.” The new bridge will be considerably closer to the ground than the original. The 1939 bridge was built with maritime shipping in mind, and it’s altitude accommodated the height of smoke stacks typical of ocean going military and cargo ships.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Under the ramp, you can see the progress that the triple partnership and DOT have made. The structure on the right is part of the new approaches. The actual new Kosciuszko that over flies the water will be a cable stay bridge, which will make it unique in NYC. The good news, for me at least, is that the westerly section erected in stage 2 will include a pedestrian and bicycle lane that looks west along Newtown Creek towards Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek is found just beyond the horizon in the shot above. That’s the old Kosciuszko Bridge on the left, with the new one being built up on the right. Traffic flows overhead, uninterrupted, during all of this activity. Beyond the Creek, it’s West Maspeth and Blissville on the other side, in Queens.

Monday, I’ll show you what we saw down at the waters edge, here in DUKBO – Down under the Kosciuszko Bridges Onramps.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 20, 2015 at 1:00 pm

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