The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘English Kills

greatest suddenness

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Vas doin on English Kills, boychik, mit the bubbles?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

DUMABO. Down Under the Metropolitan Bridge Onramp, is a spot that bisects the pathway of the so called “industrial Canals of Brooklyn” or English Kills. The darkest thicket of the troubled Newtown Creek, English Kills is largely isolated from casual perusal by the electorate by a continuous shield wall of industrial buildings, which means that what happens on the water is usually commented on by an unlucky few such as myself. The engineered path that the water flows through follows the Brooklyn street grid, which creates a series of right angle turns that impede the tidal actions of the East River which is some 3 miles from here.

This adherence to the street grid, and the hydrological issues it introduces, has caused huge accretions of the so called “Black Mayonnaise” sediments to agglutinate. This sedimentation, along with the summer heat, causes the water to be “anoxic,” meaning that it often carries little or no dissolved oxygen. This kills off any aquatic life that may have wandered back here, and promulgates the colonies of sewage bacteria in the water whose aromatic exhalations remind one of rotting chicken eggs.

The sewage bacteria is provided by the many CSO’s (Combined Sewer Outfalls) found along the waterway.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

To combat these anoxic conditions, the ever reliable NYC DEP (in concert with the state DEC) have installed an aeration system. Basically a giant pipe through which pressurized air is pumped, the thing operates in the same manner as a bubble wand on your aquarium fish tank. Disturbing the surface allows atmospheric gases like oxygen to become dissolved in the water. The DEP building you’ll notice on Metropolitan Avenue in East Williamsburg that adjoins the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge contains the air compressors.

It all sounds rather logical, as the efforts of engineers often do. Problem is that the sewage bacteria conditions are being caused by the Combined Sewer Outfalls on English Kills, which the DEP engineers are not focusing on. It’s sort of like shitting in a fish tank every day, and attaching more and more aerating bubble wands to combat the conditions being caused, without doing anything about… y’know, not shitting in your aquarium.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the problem - my pals over at Riverkeeper have voiced MAJOR concerns about this system, and cite a study by M. Elias Dueker which shows that bacterial fauna from English Kills are provided with an opportunity to enter the air via this system. A “Culturable Bacterial Aerosol” as they describe it, is allowed purchase into the atmosphere.

Said organisms can then find a home on any friendly terrestrial surface.

In effect, these bubbles provide a ladder for the worst pathogens in the Newtown creek watershed an opportunity to get up and out of the water. Keeping this sort of bacteria away from the general populace is sort of the mission of the DEP, btw.

from riverkeeper.org

Riverkeeper raised concerns when the city proposed aerating the rest of the creek last spring and asked the DEP to test for pathogens and sewage associated bacteria in the air, which they did not agree to do. Aeration creates bubbles on the water’s surface and is a Band Aid solution to the underlying serious problem of combined sewage overflows. Low oxygen conditions in the creek occur due to sewage contamination and although aeration increases the oxygen level in the water, it does not reduce the amount of sewage or sewage associated bacteria that are dumped into the creek. Riverkeeper has argued that aeration is an ineffective way of addressing the pollution problem and the recent study suggests that it may also negatively impact local air-quality.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Worse still, the aeration system performs its job quite well. Dissolved oxygen levels in English Kills are higher than they used to be. Accordingly, the DEP is planning on expanding the system from English Kills all the way to the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, more than a mile away.

The pipes are planned to follow the contour of the Queens coastline, of course, because you wouldn’t be able to get away with doing it on the Brooklyn side. This puts Maspeth, and parts of Sunnyside and Blissville, in the path of the pestilent wind which would rise from the loathsome Newtown Creek.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

perilous experiences

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Shut your trap.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

2012 and 2013 seem to have been years wherein I spent more time in Greenpoint than I did in Queens, which is something that great efforts  in the name of correction have been made in 2014. Lost in soliloquy and pondering the meaning of itself, North Brooklyn has plenty of folks watching over it, while Queens screams for attention and there seems to be only me paying it any mind. Spotted on Steinway Street in Astoria, this yellow horse offers vainglorious thrills, although it is a shadow of what is possible in the world of equestrian statuary.

I do not think that the apogee of horse sculptures will offer rides for 50 cents, however.

from wikipedia

The Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, part of the Genghis Khan Statue Complex is a 40 metre (131 ft 3 in) tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, on the bank of the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog (54 km (33.55 mi) east of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar), where according to legend, he found a golden whip. The statue is symbolically pointed east towards his birthplace.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On Newtown Road in Astoria at its intersection with 41st street, one notices a rare artifact of an earlier age.

An uninterrupted block of Matthews Model Flats ends with a wrap around corner that hosts a commercial shop on the first floor. My network of Croatian informants tell me that they remember nothing about the storefront ever being anything other than what it is now, an electrician’s location, and one hopes that some Astorian reading this post can help fill the rest of us in on the past history of the spot.

from mas.org

The Mathews Model Flats were built by speculative developer Gustave X. Mathews and designed by Louis Allmendinger in the early part of the 20th Century. Considered to be some of the most innovative housing in the city, these “new law” tenements were designed with more space and better sanitation than their overcrowded 19th Century counterparts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally- a shot from Brooklyn’s Bushwick, or East Wiiliamsburg as the Real Estate people call it.

This is the dead bang end of Newtown Creek - actually, its tributary English Kills.

More and more of the people I encounter from this neighborhood are coming down here, seeking vicarious thrills and “disaster tourism.” Some are actually dragging boats and kayaks through the sediments to get into the water.

Lords and Ladies… English Kills is an open sewer, and one of the most polluted spots in New York City if not the planet. I know a whole lot about what’s going on back here and try to limit my exposure to this spot down to 3 or 4 times a year. There’s a reason that the Feds are going to spend hundreds of millions to clean things up. If you’re going to insist on boating in Newtown Creek, please launch from someplace safer. Please?

from habitatmap.org

People using the creek for recreational purposes such as swimming and boating may come into direct contact with chemical contaminants and harmful biological organisms. People may come in contact with contaminants present in the shallow creek sediments while entering or exiting the creek during recreational activities.

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There are three Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Sunday, June 21st, America’s Workshop
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Saturday, June 28th, The Poison Cauldron
With Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, June 29th, The Insalubrious Valley
With Brooklyn Brainery, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

stranger whence

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Notice: the November 9th Magic Lantern Show with Atlas Obscura is cancelled for now. We hope to reschedule for sometime during the winter. Observatory, where the event is scheduled to take place, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and flooding.

Alternatively, it has been decided to move forward with this Sunday’s Newtown Creek “SideTour” Poison Cauldron walking tour in Greenpoint, details are found at the bottom of this posting.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Completing the survey of the distaff tributaries of the fabled Newtown Creek in the aftermath of the so called Frankenstorm, Hurricane Sandy, my stalwart companion Hank The Elevator Guy and your humble narrator proceeded to the heart of darkness itself, the malign English Kills which runs along the borderland of Bushwick, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Ridgewood.

There are few casual visitors to this spot, and those of us who are familiar with this section of the Creek make attempts to limit our exposure to it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Reports from those who live nearby, and don’t enjoy the measured luxury of choosing how often to breathe the unique perfumes of English Kills, indicated that significant flooding occurred here. The water was meant to have infiltrated out from the bulkheads, overflowing the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch, and onto both Morgan and Johnson Avenue.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The shells of bivalves were extant upon the moist ground. Can it be possible that they were deposited by the tidal surge? One thing which should be noted is that the smell one normally associates with this area, something not dissimilar to a turtle’s aquarium tank, was absent. Everything smelled… well, wet.

Only way to describe it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Everywhere that I’ve seen exposed rail tracks around the Creek, they all exhibit this fresh patina of orange corrosion. Causation does not equal correlation, however, if you were to compare them to the shots in the Newtown Pentacle posting from March of this year “approaching locomotive” you will notice a distinct change in color which your humble narrator would ascribe to immersion in brackish water.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The water in English Kills, as always, was horrible to behold. It was a bit murkier than usual, as would be suspected, and a large amount of floatable trash was observed. Again, not unsurprising. There is a reason that my old pal Bernie Ente called this spot “the heart of darkness” and why I use “gods gift to pain“.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a pretty well established spot for homeless shanties and sometimes full blown camps to be established. It’s hidden and far enough away from “civilization” for no one to complain about a camp fire, after all.

This shanty was smashed, no doubt by heavy winds.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The CSO at the end of the Newtown Creek’s furthest extant. One can only imagine what was erupting from it during the storm surge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The larger Homeless shanty dwelling atop the CSO seems to have survived the storm, and they are flying the flag.

Notice the storm debris hanging from the plants along the banks, no doubt left behind as the waters receded, sucking along anything that was submerged or floating in it on the way back into the waterway.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator has been in contact with certain members of the government about oil sheens and petroleum residues observed around the Newtown Creek on this survey. They assured me, and asked that I pass along that they will be back on the beat with us as soon as they clear up the disastrous situation in the Rockaways, Staten Island, and especially the Arthur Kill. They have asked that if anybody in the area spots oil, especially after the coming storm on Wednesday, that you call the NYS DEC Spills Hotline, open 24 hours a day at 1-800-457-7362.

Tomorrow, I’ll be tying things up with a visit to Greenpoint and Hunters Point made on Saturday, sans the services of Hank the Elevator Guy.

Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

Note: there are just 4 tickets left on this one, which is likely the last walking tour I’ll be conducting in 2012.

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

perpetually ajar

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent serendipity found your humble narrator onboard a vessel plying the languid waters of the Newtown Creek. This particular adventure was part of a larger and laudable effort which will be the subject of a posting later in the week, but urgent demands and unavoidable deadlines preclude discussion of the outing at this point. Instead, one is anxious to share the scenic wonders and hidden landscape of this water body that defines the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens.

Captured in the heart of DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge), the shot above depicts the far off and omnipresent Sapphire Megalith rising over industrial Brooklyn and framed by the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge while opening at English Kill.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The self same Megalith again provides geographic context for the scene, and the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge and Calvary Cemetery occupy the foreground.

To the right is the Phelps Dodge site, and to the left is found the lurking fear and that rampant darkness which lurks on the Brooklyn side of DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, gaze in wonder at the skyline of the Shining City itself, as framed by the titan National Grid tanks and the myriad works of infrastructure arrayed across the Brooklyn flood plain. Inextricably linked, the heavy industries and energy installations along the Newtown Creek allow the Shining City to maintain the facade of assumptions which Manhattanites prefer to believe about this place where aspirant and realist metaphors clash.

More, on why exactly I was on this boat, will be forthcoming. Apologies for brevity and obfuscation.

skillfully wafted

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in the Newtown Pentacle posting “Approaching Locomotive“, a recent opportunity to visit the gargantuan Waste Management facility on Varick Street in Brooklyn (whose back yard abuts the English Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek) materialized. your humble narrator has long desired to witness the place, so I jumped at the chance.

As a note- I’m a member of Newtown Creek Alliance, and so is one of the subjects of this posting. Said admission is offered in the name of avoiding charges of bias, nepotism, or cronyism.

from wikipedia

Waste Management, Inc. (NYSE: WM) is a waste management, comprehensive waste, and environmental services company in North America. Founded in 1894, the company is headquartered the First City Tower in Houston, Texas.

The company’s network includes 367 collection operations, 355 transfer stations, 273 active landfill disposal sites, 16 waste-to-energy plants, 134 recycling plants, 111 beneficial-use landfill gas projects and six independent power production plants. Waste Management offers environmental services to nearly 20 million residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. With 21,000 collection and transfer vehicles, the company has the largest trucking fleet in the waste industry. Together with its competitor Republic Services, Inc, the two handle more than half of all garbage collection in the United States.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Accompanying a class of high school students from “The Green School” on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, we arrived at the Titan depot early in the afternoon. Early for the diurnal, of course, but late in the day for the Waste Management folks who get more accomplished before sunrise than most do by sunset.

from greenschooleducation.org

The Green School is a 9th-12th grade learning community that develops science, math, literacy, and social studies skills in the context of New York City’s many environments. Through rigorous interdisciplinary curricula and hands-on experiential projects, students will engage with their environment, participate meaningfully in community life, and prepare for their futures.

While focusing on “green” careers, the school’s primary theme is sustainability, a concept and a practice that incorporates and recognizes the interconnectedness of the environment, the economy, society, and culture and promotes practices with the future in mind. The curricula focus on giving students scientific, historical, and contextual knowledge to make meaningful connections between their lives and the broader world, and the math and literacy skills they need to participate in that world. Students are able to demonstrate mastery of academic work in portfolios, examinations, and reflections by applying it to the world around them, explaining the geometry in the arc of an elevated train, deducing air quality using the scientific method, or designing and carrying out learning experiences for local elementary students. Students participate in community service projects, internships and apprenticeships, and do independent projects based on their interests each year.

The mission of The Green School lends itself to create a school environment open to the diverse needs of ELL, special education, gifted and struggling students. The Green School is committed to provide all students an education and the required skills that are transferable from the classroom to their collegiate and/or professional pursuits.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The two fellows at either end of the shot above are Newtown Creek Alliance’s Michael Heimbinder and Marc Ottaviani, 11th grade English Language Arts teacher. Michael, in addition to his NCA work, is involved in several other projects- one of which is habitatmap.org.

from habitatmap.org

Michael Heimbinder, Founder & Executive Director

Michael Heimbinder is a writer, researcher, community organizer and information designer. Over the years he has collaborated with a wide range of environmental and human rights organizations including the Newtown Creek Alliance, the United Nations Equator Initiative, the Ghana Wildlife Society and Food First. He is also a Fellow at the Oakland Institute and a technical advisor to the Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods where he consults on solid waste management issues in New York City. Michael is a graduate of Colorado College and received his M.A. in International Affairs from the New School for Social Research.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The program which the kids are taking part in, funded by the NYCEF fund of the Hudson River Conservancy, is built around the habitatmap concept, and is described thusly:

“School to develop and teach a ten week course that instructs 11th grade students on maps-based research methods focusing on two facilities adjacent to Newtown Creek: the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and Waste Management’s Varick Avenue Transfer Station. The selected facilities are the starting point from which the students are examining water and waste systems by geographically tracing the material flows and institutional networks that connect these facilities to the larger world. The students’ findings will be documented using HabitatMap’s community mapping platform and integrated into a maps-based research methods toolkit. The toolkit will be used by high schools, both in New York and nationally, to conduct investigations of water and waste systems in their own communities using examples from Newtown Creek.

By developing coursework that combines technology, classroom learning, and field research the curriculum is specifically designed to meet the Green School’s mission, which aims to prepare students for their future studies and employment “through rigorous interdisciplinary curricula and hands-on experiential projects that encourage students to engage with their environment and participate meaningfully in community life.”

also from habitatmap.org

Mission

HabitatMap is a non-profit environmental health justice organization whose goal is to raise awareness about the impact the environment has on human health. Our online mapping and social networking platform is designed to maximize the impact of community voices on city planning and strengthen ties between organizations and activists working to build greener, greater cities. Utilizing our shared advocacy platform participants can:

  • Alert the public to environmental health hazards
  • Hold polluters accountable for their environmental impacts
  • Highlight urban infrastructures that promote healthy living
  • Identify future opportunities for sustainable urban development
  • Promote policies that enhance equitable access to urban resources

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As such class trips have begun since the dawn of time, we were brought to a room where one of the Waste Management superintendents and staff described the process, and procedural habits, of the transfer station. A transfer station, for those of you unused to such terminology, is a concentrating point for the garbage collected by the DSNY and others for sorting and containerizing. The white collection trucks carry their cargo here, where it is loaded onto train cars for eventual disposition into (usually out of state) landfills.

from wikipedia

A transfer station is a building or processing site for the temporary deposition of waste. Transfer stations are often used as places where local waste collection vehicles will deposit their waste cargo prior to loading into larger vehicles. These larger vehicles will transport the waste to the end point of disposal in an incinerator, landfill, or hazardous waste facility, or for recycling

In the future, transfer stations could be equipped with material recovery facilities and with localized mechanical biological treatment systems to remove recyclable items from the waste stream.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

When the DSNY trucks arrive at the facility, they are weighed on enormous vehicle scales like the ones in the shot above. When exiting the facility, they are weighed a second time, and the differential is recorded as the tonnage of waste which was delivered. My understanding is that in the contract Waste Management enjoys with the City of New York, the fees paid for the handling of this putrescent lahar are assessed on a “per ton” basis.

from gothamgazette.com

Other parts of the city’s solid waste plan have moved forward. Twenty-year contracts have been either negotiated or are in effect with Waste Management of New York to export trash from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. The sanitation department is currently negotiating with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a long-term contract to take the vast majority of Manhattan’s refuse to a waste-to-energy plant in New Jersey.

At the time of the solid waste management plan’s approval, the administration argued long-term contracts would save the city money, and it would get the city’s trash off of dirty diesel trucks. Almost 90 percent of city trash, the mayor promised, would be sent by rail or barge instead.

According to the Department of Sanitation, the cost of exporting the city’s trash has increased per ton from $61.30 in 2000 to $92.80 in 2010 — a 20 percent increase over the rate of inflation. As of April, 33 percent of the city’s trash has been unloaded from trucks and put on rail cars — an increase from 14 percent in 2006, according to the solid waste plan.

None of the city’s waste is currently exported by barge, according to the Department of Sanitation, because those transfer stations have not been completed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We were informed that our arrival in the afternoon was fortuitous as Waste Management’s schedule is precisely administered to conclude sorting and containerization by a certain time of day which allows them purchase to clean and disinfect their mill. The representatives explained that they are regularly visited by inspection officers and are contractually obligated to several “best practice” regulations.

from habitatmap.org

In 2006 Waste Management NY 215 Varick handled 652,706 tons of material; this sum represents 5.3% of all waste exported through transfer stations in New York City.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Late in the night and early morning, fleets of collection trucks arrive here, are weighed, and “tip” or discharge their cargo. Enormous machinery, clawed derricks and jotun sized earth moving equipment, flies into action. This can be an enormously dangerous place to work, were routine safety procedures not strictly observed. Even so, extreme caution was urged as we moved into the relatively empty transfer station.

from nyc.gov

Each week, in Fiscal Year 2010, the Department assigned approximately 4,941 trucks to collect 49,922 tons of curbside residential refuse and scheduled 460 E- Z Pack and Roll-on/Roll-off containerized trucks to collect an additional 8,000 tons. The amount of refuse generated by the 8.2 million residents of New York City is subject to seasonal variations. Each month, the Department allocates weekly truck and tonnage targets to each of its 59 districts to better manage our productivity. These targets are closely monitored to ensure that productivity improvement goals are met. District Superintendents constantly evaluate routes and tonnage in their districts to achieve these targets.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The extant mound of trash in these shots was huge, but as mentioned by the Waste Management people, represented only a small fraction of what they handle daily. In fact, they were quite nearly finished processing the daily waste of most of Brooklyn when we arrived. They also explained that the relative lack of odor was due to state of the art equipment maintained at the site which accomplished odor control and elimination via technological means.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For scale, this stitched panorama image is included. That’s Mr. Heimbinder in the foreground, and he’s around six feet tall. The trash pile was roughly thirty to forty feet high, and covered a fairly large parcel of floorspace. Any estimate I could offer would be wrong, as your humble narrator is notorious for overestimation of such matters. Somewhere between a regulation basketball court and a regulation football field would be my best guess.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Waste Management crew were waiting for us to exit the facility before they got back to work, and as schedules must be maintained- we were escorted along. Like a lot of the people you meet in the garbage industry, they were really nice and seemingly “regular joes” who took their jobs seriously. A few of the Waste Management and DSNY personnel who were on site also talked to the kids, assuring them that these were “good jobs” with great pay and a full package of benefits.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator knows quite a few people employed in this industry, at both public agencies and private carting firms. None of them regret their choices, career wise, but for the early start time which is common at such jobs. Most of the folks I know who are engaged in this trade leave home before the sun comes up, arriving at work by 5 A.M. or thereabouts. Often, a change of clothes is kept in the trunk, as their work clothes can become quite soiled as the day goes on. After a shower, you’d never know what they do for a living.

approaching locomotive

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

On Morgan Avenue in the ancient section of industrial Brooklyn, not far from the legendary heart of darkness which is the English Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek, there may be observed a rail crossing. Part of the so called LIRR Bushwick Branch, recent opportunities have allowed me to fill in a missing piece of the great puzzle.

from wikipedia

The Bushwick Branch, also called the Bushwick Lead Track, is a freight railroad branch that runs from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to Fresh Pond Junction in Queens, New York, where it connects with the Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. It is owned by the LIRR but operated under lease by the New York and Atlantic Railway, which took over LIRR freight operations in May 1997.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

By no means should it be inferred that any special knowledge of the history of street grade rail in Brooklyn is possessed by your humble narrator, as this is still a subject under study around Newtown Pentacle HQ. If you were to look left (or south west) while on Morgan Avenue and traveling northward, this is what you’d see, way back here in the Cripplebush.

from wikipedia

East Williamsburg is a name for the area in the northwestern portion of the borough of Brooklyn in New York City, United States, which lies between Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick. Much of this area has been and still is referred to as either Bushwick, Williamsburg, or Greenpoint with the term East Williamsburg falling out of use until the 1990s. East Williamsburg consists roughly of what was the 3rd District of the Village of Williamsburg and what is now called the East Williamsburg In-Place Industrial Park (EWIPIP), bounded by the neighborhoods of Northside and Southside Williamsburg to the west, Greenpoint to the north, Bushwick to the south and southeast, and both Maspeth and Ridgewood in Queens to the east.

Although the City of New York recognizes East Williamsburg as a neighborhood, there are no official boundaries to East Williamsburg since the City only officially delineates Community Districts and Boroughs, not neighborhoods.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking right, or north east, you’ll see what appears to be a locomotive right of way that terminates at a distant green wall. The Bushwick line has been explored by many others who are braver of heart than I, including Diego Cupolo and Forgotten-NY’s own Kevin Walsh. There’s a missing piece in their accounts (which to be fair, has been off limits to inspection by passerby for some time), however, which recent serendipity allows me to bring to you.

This is, after all, part of Newtown Creek.

from The Eastern District of Brooklyn By Eugene L. Armbruster, via google books

BEYOND THE NEWTOWN CREEK

In the olden times the lands on both sides of Newtown Creek were most intimately connected. County lines were unknown, the creeks were dividing lines between the several plantations, for the reason that lands near a creek were taken up in preference to others, and the creeks were used in place of roads to transport the produce of the farms to the river, and thus it was made possible to reach the fort on Manhattan Island.

The territory along the Newtown Creek, as far as “Old Calvary Cemetery” and along the East River to a point about where the river is now crossed by the Queensboro bridge and following the line of the bridge past the plaza, was known as Dutch Kills. On the other side of Old Calvary was a settlement of men from New England and, therefore, named English Kills. The Dutch Kills and the English Kills, as well as the rest of the out-plantations along the East River, were settlements politically independent of each other and subject only to the Director-General and Council at Manhattan Island, but became some time later parts of the town of Newtown.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An obsession of mine, let’s just name it a calling, is to photograph every possible corner of the Newtown Creek watershed.

Challenging, most of the shoreline is under lock and key, and many parts of it are under strict supervision by security personnel and police authorities. The spot these shots were gathered from is even hazy ground, and although I never stepped on the tracks and stayed to the extreme sides of the pathway, I was probably violating a “no trespassing” rule which I wear on my sleeve.

The presence of graffiti and a largish homeless camp I know to exist back here made me feel that any rule against taking a look around is lightly enforced by the gendarme and the proverbial dice would be thrown.

Speaking of dice, a locally famous accident occurred on the Bushwick line back in 2004.

from ntsb.gov

LIRR 160 traveled about 1.2 miles on the Bushwick Branch, passing over seven passive highway/railroad grade crossings. The event recorder indicated that the locomotive traveled the total distance of about 11,692 feet (2.2 miles) in 16 minutes 9 seconds and reached a maximum speed of about 31 mph.

During the runaway, LIRR 160 struck an automobile at one grade crossing and pushed it several hundred feet. The two occupants of this vehicle sustained serious injuries and required hospitalization. At another grade crossing, the locomotive struck two more automobiles, resulting in serious injuries to their drivers, who also required hospitalization. Two trucks were parked along the tracks near another grade crossing. The locomotive struck the trucks and pushed them about 800 feet westward beyond the crossing before it stopped. One of the trucks was carrying welding supplies, including acetylene and oxygen cylinders; the cylinders were damaged during the accident and caused a fire. The trucks were unoccupied; however, employees of the trucks’ owner had to jump away from the track to avoid injury.

As LIRR 160 collided with the automobiles and trucks, the struck vehicles were propelled in different directions and struck other vehicles. As a result, the accident damaged five other vehicles and a backhoe.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of graffiti, these puzzling bits of signage were observed on a well painted wall. Like the “God’s Gift to Pain” graffiti at the end of English Kills, however, they filled me with some nameless dread.

from wikipedia

The first recorded use of the A in a circle by anarchists was by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workers Association. This was set up by Giuseppe Fanelli in 1868. It predates its adoption by anarchists as it was used as a symbol by others. According to George Woodcock, this symbol was not used by classical anarchists. In a series of photos of the Spanish Civil War taken by Gerda Taro a small A in a circle is visibly chalked on the helmet of a militiaman. There is no notation of the affiliation of the militiaman, but one can presume he is an Anarchist. The first documented use was by a small French group, Jeunesse Libertaire (“Libertarian Youth”) in 1964. Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti, youth group from Milan, adopted it and in 1968 it became popular throughout Italy. From there it spread rapidly around the world.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The icon in the tree part of this illustration is meant to be an “anarchy” symbol, but to me it looked like some multi lobed eye, if you know what I mean. Weird things go on around here, and this is no safe place, even while the radiant attentions of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself are shining down upon the poison shores of English Kills.

from wikipedia

The “three-lobed burning eye” is one of many manifestations of Nyarlathotep, a messenger of the Outer Gods, from fiction penned by H. P. Lovecraft. This particular manifestation is a huge bat-winged creature, with a burning tri-lobed eye. In Lovecraft’s story “Haunter of the Dark,” the character Robert Blake discovers a Shining Trapezohedron in a church steeple in Providence, RI, a place of worship for the Church of Starry Wisdom cult. Narrowly escaping an unseen horror released by the Trapezohedron, Blake realizes the horror can only travel in the dark. When a storm and power blackout envelop the city, he scribbles down his findings, concluding the story with his terrified record of what he can only glimpse of the approaching beast. “I see it– coming here– hell-wind– titan-blur– black wings– Yog-Sothoth save me– the three-lobed burning eye…”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of English Kills, this is the rail bridge which the tracks of the Bushwick Branch utilize to cross over it. In the background of the shot is one of the largest CSO outfalls in New York City and behind that is an access a ride parking depot and Johnson Avenue.

This is what it looks like from the water, incidentally, and long have I desired to see the New York and Atlantic crossing it from this perspective.

from habitatmap.org

  • Combined Sewer Outfall – Newtown Creek 015
  • Address Johnson Ave., Brooklyn, NY
  • Neighborhood Newtown Creek
  • Owner/Occupant NYC DEP
  • Location Details Combined Sewer Overflow Outfall NC-015:
  • discharges 344.4M gallons per year into English Kills
  • Tier 2 outfall
  • Ranked 20 out of over 400 in terms of volume
  • located at Johnson Ave

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge, which I’ve always heard referred to as “The Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge” is found some 3.8 miles from the East River, and regains land on the eastern shore of English Kills. Notice the green gate visible in the shot above.

from bushwickbiennial.com

James Riker’s 1706 “Bushwicklands” were separated from the original het dorp site by the estuary wetlands that would evolve from a creek into fetid industrial transportation canals (from the Dutch kil, trans. “body of water”). As the old farms were surveyed and sold as city-block lots, area borderlands became an underbelly serving the 19th century constructions of the “English Kills Canals,” the “Town of Bushwick” to the south, and the westerly “Village of Williamsburgh.” Becoming an offal zone for breweries, slaughterhouses, & chemical manufacturing, glass, rope & bag factories, and coal, oil, & stone distribution: the flatland meadows and canal basins provided business opportunities for waves of 19th century Central European immigrants that was near, but away from, metropolitan domestic life down Bushwick Ave.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Here is that same gate, from the perspective of the trackway. The property behind that gate is the Waste Management Varick Avenue site, which is pretty much off limits. The fabled garbage train begins its journey to the continent here, as the Varick Avenue facility handles much of the putrescent waste produced in Brooklyn.

from wikipedia

Waste Management, Inc. (NYSE: WM) is a waste management, comprehensive waste, and environmental services company in North America. The company is headquartered in Suite 4000 at the First City Tower in Downtown Houston, Texas, in the United States.

The company’s network includes 367 collection operations, 355 transfer stations, 273 active landfill disposal sites, 16 waste-to-energy plants, 134 recycling plants, 111 beneficial-use landfill gas projects and 6 independent power production plants. Waste Management offers environmental services to nearly 20 million residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. With 21,000 collection and transfer vehicles, the company has the largest trucking fleet in the waste industry. Together with its competitor Republic Services, Inc, the two handle more than half of all garbage collection in the United States.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Waste Management, the serendipity mentioned above involved your humble narrator joining with a group of students on a tour of the facility, and this is what the rail bridge looks like from the other side of the gate.

Welcome to the unknown country.

from dot.ny.gov

Waste Management has a substantial waste transfer operation located on English Kills upstream from the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, incorporating all of the east side of the English Kills from Ten Eyck Street to the LIRR bridge near the head of the creek, an area of 24.7 acres. Currently, Waste Management uses the site to transfer commercial and residential refuse to trucks and rail for transport to landfills in New Jersey, as well as to store and maintain their trucks.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Another posting coming in the near future will discuss the interior workings of this place, but for now, here’s where the Bushwick branch tracks continue on their course. This is where the folks at Waste Management containerize and load up the “garbage train”.

from nytimes.com

For decades, as trash has made its way from transfer stations in Brooklyn to out-of-state landfills, it has been shuttled through the borough’s streets on ground-rattling, smoke-belching tractor trailers.

The result: irritated neighbors and polluted air.

On Wednesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a plan to replace those trucks with trains. The city will now transport tons of garbage out of Brooklyn via railroad, which will take thousands of trucks off the street.

Speaking at a trash transfer station in North Brooklyn — with a trash-filled train behind him — Mr. Bloomberg said that the change would eliminate about 13,000 truck trips a year, helping the city meet ambitious goals for cutting carbon emissions.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The tracks continue northeast across the property, and towards Varick Avenue. They cross Varick at Grade, and continue on their winding course toward the Fresh Pond depot, crossing Flushing Avenue in Maspeth and meeting connections toward Long Island City not far from Rust Street. This Rust Street connection offers access to the tracks which follow Newtown Creek through West Maspeth, Berlin, Blissville, and terminate ultimately at Hunters Point. Once, they carried cargo all the way to the East River, where Gantry Docks loaded them onto float barges for delivery in Manhattan and beyond.

from prnewswire.com

While many people balk at taking out the trash, it’s a job that the New York & Atlantic Railway does gladly — hauling 1.7 million pounds of residential and municipal waste each day, destined to Dixie in sealed containers riding aboard extra-long flat cars.

Monday through Saturday, a NY&A train crew goes over to the Varick Avenue transfer station in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they couple up with 10-to-12 89-ft. flat cars loaded with up to 48 22-ft. long containers. Each has been stuffed with 18 tons of refuse, collected from homes and businesses in North Brooklyn.

The Varick Avenue facility was redesigned recently to accommodate rail shipments. It is owned and operated by Waste Management Inc. — one of the nation’s leading transporters and processors of municipal waste. NY&A began test movements in late January and handled its first regular shipment on February 16, 2009.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the view from inside the gates on the Varick side of the Waste Management property…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

And this is the reversed POV, shot through a gap in the fence on the sidewalk.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The line continues on the other side of Varick, in the distance, you can see the Scott Avenue Footbridge.

This “trainsarefun.com” page offers detailed schematics and historic shots of the Bushwick line, which are certainly worth a moment of your time.

into the world

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Sleep has not come easily for your humble narrator of late, and dreaming offers little nepenthe. Days and nights it would seem, are consumed with images of the dread Newtown Creek and its insalubrious valley. English Kills in particular, the logical paramount of the waterway and the heart of darkness itself, draws my attention.

It is important to mention here that I am speaking from a personal point of view in this post and not espousing a majority opinion or policy of any of the “groups” with which the Newtown Pentacle has become affiliated. There are those I work for, work with, or work for me- who might not agree with statements made in this post offered to stimulate discussion on “common wisdom”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A decision which proved controversial this summer, on several Newtown Creek boat tours, was my demand that we no longer cross the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge with the general public on board. This is a deviation from prior years, but the prurient interest and wonderment of viewing the place is far outweighed by the risk posed to those who are exposed to its poisons. If you want to go back there, there are other options and other parties who will take you. Often it will be in a small vessel, often a kayak. Which is the point of this missive.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, last week your humble narrator met with that staff of Manhattan doctors which have long maintained my delicate equilibrium. One of the topics of examination which the white coat crowd brought forward to me was the environmental exposure which my activities along the Creek brings, the long term consequences of same, and certain laboratory testing which they would like me to undergo due to my walking its banks. Paradoxically, certain interests involved in the ongoing story of the Newtown Creek held me to task for statements about water quality as related to recreational boating, fearing that my opinions might harm their particular interests and provide fuel for their critics in officialdom.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody’s friends at EPA are still in the process of discovering all that there may be which is buried down there, and until the results of their analysis are revealed (which will be nearly a decade from now)- no hard and fast statement about the water quality can be considered reliable or sound. Apocrypha and incomplete discoveries, however, suggest that a witch’s brew of worst case scenarios are to be found all along the Creek- and especially in the section of English Kills which lies beyond DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The “numbers” which most use to discuss water quality in this place are relative to the presence of microscopic entities like the enterococcus, bacterial counts of which are calculated relative to recent rain events and so called “outfalls”. Famously, the rule in most of NY harbor is to wait 72 hours after it rains before swimming or boating because of a “high count”, and the folks at DEP calculate the success of their endeavors based on an accounting of the population of this particular microbial specie (a Federal Standard, they used to use Fecal Coliform). Virii and Prions are neither tested for, nor counted.

When a beach is closed, its usually because “the count” is high, for instance. The difference to the surrounding waters which Newtown Creek presents is that sewer borne bacteria are merely the tip of the iceberg which floats in this stagnant water.

Don’t forget- orange juice and ice do not a screw driver make, it’s when you stir in the vodka that you achieve a proper and singular cocktail bearing a potency beyond that of its individual components.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An enormous waste transfer station acts as a concentrating point for the putrescent waste of New York City just back there, producing an excruciating stink. The shorelines of this particular valley are lined with state superfund sites, and large sewer outfalls feed millions of gallons of human waste into English Kills annually. That CSO “flow” also carries with it every chemical which has passed through a human filter- birth control and steroid pharmaceuticals, undigestable food additives and dyes, and all the runoff from the gutters which carries solvents, automotive drippings, and whatever washes out of the enormous acreage of cemeteries which distinguish the neighborhoods around the Newtown Creek watershed.

Not trying to “gross you out”, but facts are immutably facts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Detractors would offer that your humble narrator is not a doctor, scientist, or much of anything at all. They would further inform you that I am a doomsayer, alarmist, and given to making unfounded statements based on a layman’s understanding of the complex chemistry which composes the so called waters of Newtown Creek. They call me a vulgar fool as well, but not to my face.

All this is true, of course, but it doesn’t mean that I’m incorrect.

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