The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

wonderful epics of a nameless city

with 4 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is not the world you know, this unmentioned and currently undefended border between Brooklyn and Queens, where the requiescant waters of the Newtown Creek gurgle and splash. Beyond the Pulaski Bridge- where an observable and otherworldly colour stains animal, and structure, and vegetable- the heavy industries which conspire to sustain the shining city of Manhattan spread out under the Newtown sun.


The Newtown Creek according to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) had a listing of 26 piers with a total of 8,483 feet of berthing space. However, only 16 piers with a total of 4,986 feet of berthing space are in use by 12 firms. Furthermore, six firms are using their 1,952 feet of pier berthing space and waterfront facilities occasionally only. The waterfront activity is primarily for ship and barge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along its path, the bulkheaded shorelines of the Newtown Creek reveal the rotted timber and risible decay associated with exposure to the poisons and refuse of the vast human hive, and its associated infestations. The waters have been observed, personally, to host a surprising variety of life forms- including a dizzying array of non vertebrates. Within the cemented and artificial shores, internal voids and long abandoned pipelines shelter teeming populations of rodent forms, and unguessable possibilities present themselves when discussing what else may be hiding down there, in flooded cellar and forgotten basement.

from wikipedia

The creek begins near the intersection of 47th Street and Grand Avenue on the Brooklyn-Queens border 40°43′06″N 73°55′27″W at the intersection of the East Branch and English Kills. It empties into the East River at 40°44′14″N 73°57′40″W (2nd Street and 54th Avenue in Long Island City) opposite Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan at 26th Street. Its waterfront, and that of its tributaries Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek and English Kills, are heavily industrialized.

The creek has no natural waterflows. Its outgoing flow of 14,000 million gallons/year consists of combined sewer overflow, urban runoff, raw domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater. Being estuarine, the creek is largely stagnant. Since there is no current in the creek, sludge has congealed into a 15-foot thick layer of “black mayonnaise” on the creek bed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just after passing the yawning mouth of the malign Dutch Kills, one encounters a scrap metal operation, which operates a car shredding operation. The great mill utilizes the “Newtown Creek Dock” and is owned and operated by the Hugo Neu Schnitzer East Co.

In a nutshell, the way that things work is:

Hugo Neu Schnitzer East Co. (HNSEC from this point) receives the metal glass and plastic collected by the DSNY and private contractors at its Hunts Point bulkheads in the Bronx, New Jersey, and Brooklyn…

  • HNSEC then barges certain materials to Newtown Creek, where bulk metal is separated from the less valuable plastic and virtually worthless glass.
  • A preliminary sorting of plastic and glass is performed, while the bulk metal is loaded onto barges.
  • The metals are shipped by barge to other facilities, and offered for sale on the worldwide commodities markets.

According to those principalities who authored and designed this system, it reduces the per ton cost of processing the waste stream as well as reducing the reliance on automotive conveyance for it and nourishes the maritime industry.

from a article of 2004

One of the toughest challenges with recycling has always been finding markets for the recycled goods, whose resale can then help defray the costs of the program. In announcing a 20-year recycling contract yesterday, the Bloomberg administration said it had solved that problem by encouraging a company to find those markets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is the way of things, Hugo Neu merged with Sim Group in 2005, and formed one of the largest recycling conglomerates in the world. According to our friends at Habitatmap, whose stout adherence to the scientific method and stalwart advocacy of the unvarnished truth has both terrified and impressed your humble narrator, the composite company- SimsMetal- is the largest single source of air pollution to be found along the modern Newtown Creek.


Sims Metal Management was originally established in 1917 by Albert Sims, a Sydney-based recycled metals dealer. The business was incorporated as Albert G. Sims Limited in 1928 and was renamed Simsmetal Limited in 1968.

In 1970, it merged with Consolidated Metal Products Limited and the merged ASX-listed company was named Sims Consolidated Limited. In 1979, Sims Consolidated Limited was acquired by Peko-Wallsend Limited and subsequently delisted. Sims Consolidated Limited was then acquired by North Limited (previously known as North Broken Hill Holdings Limited, and then North Broken Hill Peko Limited) in 1988. In 1989, North Limited sold the business to Elders Resources NZFP Limited, a diversified resources company.

In 1990, Carter Holt Harvey Limited made a successful takeover bid for Elders Resources NZFP Limited and divested that company’s non-forestry businesses, which included Sims. Sims changed its name to Simsmetal Limited in 1990 and relisted on the ASX in 1991. Simsmetal Limited changed its name to Sims Group Limited in 2003.

Sims Metal Management’s corporate strategy includes leading industry consolidation through acquisitions. Over a number of years, with experience gained from numerous international acquisitions, Sims Metal Management has established strict acquisition criteria. The acquisition criteria require that any acquisition target holds the number one or number two market position, delivers access to domestic and international customers, offers a sound platform for future growth and, above all else, will likely enhance shareholder value. The acquisition criteria have underpinned Sims Metal Management’s strong track record of international expansion.

In October 2005, Sims Group Limited merged with the recycling businesses of Hugo Neu Corporation, a privately owned U.S. corporation. The merger created a new ASX listed company named Sims Group Limited, which is traded under the ASX code “SGM.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I am told by knowledgeable sources that much of this scrap metal will eventually find its way to the mercantile courts of far away Asia, with the bulk of it headed to the smokestacks of China. This is less recycling and waste disposal than it is mining, if one actually takes a step back and looks at it.

from wikipedia

The scrap industry contributed $65 billion in 2006 and is one of the few contributing positively to the U.S. balance of trade, exporting $15.7 billion in scrap commodities in 2006. This imbalance of trade has resulted in rising scrap prices during 2007 and 2008 within the United States.[2] Scrap recycling also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserves energy and natural resources. For example, scrap recycling diverts 145,000,000 short tons (129,464,286 long tons; 131,541,787 t) of materials away from landfills. Recycled scrap is a raw material feedstock for 2 out of 3 pounds of steel made in the U.S., for 60% of the metals and alloys produced in the U.S., for more than 50% of the U.S. paper industry’s needs, and for 33% of U.S. aluminum. Recycled scrap helps keep air and water cleaner by removing potentially hazardous materials and keeping them out of landfills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Frequently observed on the East River, these barges of shredded steel and metal maintain a regular schedule back and forth from the Newtown Creek. This particular barge is the 886 gross ton Cape Lucy, a 146 foot long freight vessel operated by the Inland Barge Corporation, and constructed by Bethlehem Steel in 1953.

Always fascinated by minutia, your humble narrator wonders if this barge is a “leave behind” from the construction of the Pulaski Bridge by the self same Bethlehem Steel in 1953.


In 1881, the New York City Department of Street Cleaning was created in response to the public uproar over litter-lined streets and disorganized garbage collection. Originally called the Department of Street Cleaning, the agency took over waste responsibilities from the New York City Police Department. In 1933, the name was changed to the Department of Sanitation.

Throughout the 1880’s, 75% of NYC’s waste was dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1895, Commissioner George Waring instituted a waste management plan that eliminated ocean dumping and mandated recycling. Household waste was separated into three categories: food waste, which was steamed and compressed to eventually produce grease (for soap products) and fertilizer; rubbish, from which paper and other marketable materials were salvaged; and ash, which along with the nonsalable rubbish was landfilled. The Police Department, under the direction of its Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, enforced the recycling law.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heavy equipment and esoteric machinery is always on display at this location, and it attracts no small amount of attention from area photographic enthusiasts. Proximity to the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk, with its wide open sight lines and panoramic scope, no doubt aids in the fame of this place. These shots, however, were captured from onboard a boat which was plying the volatile surface of the Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

Critics dispute the net economic and environmental benefits of recycling over its costs, and suggest that proponents of recycling often make matters worse and suffer from confirmation bias. Specifically, critics argue that the costs and energy used in collection and transportation detract from (and outweigh) the costs and energy saved in the production process; also that the jobs produced by the recycling industry can be a poor trade for the jobs lost in logging, mining, and other industries associated with virgin production; and that materials such as paper pulp can only be recycled a few times before material degradation prevents further recycling. Proponents of recycling dispute each of these claims, and the validity of arguments from both sides has led to enduring controversy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Weirdly organic, the Sennebogen hydraulic loaders which effortlessly move the scrap from land to barge seem to be a favored item for the scrap industry to purchase (and Sims Metal in particular), valued for its mechanical advantages and engineering accumen. Sennebogen, like the fabled Steinway clan which has left such an indelible stamp on the surrounding communities, is a German corporation operated by a single family and founded by an enigmatic sire.


RICHMOND, CA – The existing pedestal crane at the 18-acre Sims Metal Management scrap metal yard in Richmond, California had become a bit of a production liability for Jesse Garcia, Sims NW Equipment Manager. Repairs to the pedestal crane were difficult and Garcia often found himself having to lease replacement equipment to keep up production on the yard’s shear when the crane went down. When it came time to replace the crane, Garcia chose a SENNEBOGEN 840 R special, a purpose-built material handler that gives him the mobility and problem-free reliability and uptime he was seeking.

“Metal on metal”

“A scrap yard is a tough environment – it’s constant metal on metal. You need dependable equipment that is built for this application. SENNEBOGEN machines are purpose-built for handling scrap metal, they’re not just retrofitted excavators,” says Garcia. “Our tracked SENNEBOGEN 840 R special is perfect for this application. We can move it in and out for quick, easy maintenance, and should the shear go down, we can utilize it elsewhere in the yard.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Forgotten by modernity, even your humble narrator had to consult with one of the “Rabbi’s” to double confirm that this dock was originally the location of the “Manure Dock”, where Manhattan’s human waste products, animal carcasses, and organic waste would be barged to.

Journalists of the era referred to it as the “Offal dock“.

Some of the redolant cargo would be shipped untreated to points East by the LIRR to be utilized as fertilizer on the bountiful farms which once typified the eastern counties, and some percentage of it was processed by local commercial rendering operations owned by the likes of Conrad Wessel and Peter Cooper who saw the rotting filth as a raw material for various food products- aspic, isenglass, and gelatin amongst others. The remnants of that process, which involved the usage of high pressure steam and other state of the art victorian technologies, were further processed into glues, waxes, and potent acids.

from wikipedia

Where a cargo is coarser in size than minerals, commonly for scrap metal, then an orange-peel grab may be used instead of a shell. These have six or eight segments of “peel” independently hinged around a central core. They are better able to grab at an uneven load, rather than just scooping at small pieces. If the load is made of long thin pieces, a grab may also be able to carry far more than a single “grabful” at one time.

Although orange-peel grabs may be hung from cables on a jib, they’re also commonly mounted directly onto a jib. This is more suitable for grabbing at awkward loads that might otherwise tend to tip a hanging grab over. They may also use hydraulics to control the segments rather than weight and hoist cables.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The concept of recycling is nothing new, here in the megalopolis of New York, and then as now- it was the Newtown Creek and its surrounding communities that absorbed and absolved Manhattan’s sins. The stink, as reported in the late 19th century, that arose from this section of the Creek was legendary even to those hardened by close quartered tenement conditions and the press of an unventilated and crowded city which counted its draft animals in the hundreds of thousands.

Imagine a hot August day in Manhattan, 100 years ago, and that same day… on a slick of oily water some 4 miles long that defined the undefended border between the cities of Long Island City, Newtown, Greenpoint, Bushwick, and Williamsburg.

Pictured above is the DonJon towing Tug Peter Andrew, part of the DonJon Marine fleet that handles the metal and other recyclables trade from Newtown Creek to and from the Newtown Creek to the other links in the waste stream scattered about the New York Harbor archipelago. Photo is from last year, and was shot on the East River.


Donjon Marine Co., Inc. offers the marine community full-service solutions to meet your every need in the field of marine salvage, dredging, material recycling and related services. Founded in 1964 by Mr. J. Arnold Witte, Donjon’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Donjon Marine’s principal business activities were marine salvage, marine transportation, and related services. Today Donjon Marine is a true provider of multifaceted marine services. Donjon’s controlled expansion into related businesses such as dredging, ferrous and non-ferrous recycling and heavy lift services are a natural progression, paralleling our record of solid technical and cost-effective performance.

4 Responses

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  1. mitch– as always, fabulous work! keep it up.


    August 19, 2010 at 7:37 am

  2. […] the Thomas D. Witte tugboat maneuvering a barge into position at the SimsMetal dock, and the rusty crossing in the background is the non functioning swing bridge which spans the […]

  3. […] pointed out- including the future of the Arch Street Yard, the Hunters Point South development, SimsMetal, the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant, the Greenpoint petroleum district, the Blissville […]

  4. […] metals trade often comes up in these postings, partially due to my proximity to its center at Newtown Creek, and partially due to the wonder of it all. The claims which are made by those versed in […]

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