The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

hovering above

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent business called for me to visit the facilities of a commercial printer which has established its physical plant in part of the former Degnon complex near Dutch Kills, which explains how and why I found myself on Monday morning enduring the single digit temperatures which made the day remarkable.

What was fascinating to the shivering photographer, lost in private reverie upon Hunters Point Avenue, was the realization that when it’s cold enough- the exhausts of our city’s power generating system are actually and entirely visible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, when temperatures are in the average seasonal mean, there might be a few hundred feet of exhaust visibly extant as it emanates. In extreme cold, however, one can observe long streams of heated gas pulsing upward at seemingly titanic pressure. Manmade clouds, these vertical columns retain integrity against horizontal wind shear until they achieve great height, and begin to disseminate into the swift currents of air which swirl about and over New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is Western Queens which is the workshop of New York City, – you cannot have the Shining City of Manhattan without a Great Machine, a Newtown Creek, or a Big Allis.

Where transformer farms abound- usually at the edge of a residency zone-, an omnipresent electrical hum is detected, and all attempts to use otherwise reliable headphones with a portable music player result in static shocks and an odd crackling sound is present in the earbud monitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The chimney in the shot above is actually located at Roosevelt Island, some distance from my location near the 7 train and LIRR station on Hunters Point Avenue (about 2 blocks from the Pulaski Bridge). My understanding is that the gas it is emitting is actually waste steam generated from CONED‘s consolidated generating system at Big Allis, and it is included in this post purely for the extreme altitude of its projection, which- to my eye- looks to be 3 to 4 times the height of Queensboro’s highest point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rounding the corner from Hunters Point (or 49th Avenue) onto 21st street, the dragon herself comes into view.

Big Allis…

Wait… what was that? Dragon? Exaggerating again, making mountains from molehills again? Check out this NYTimes.com piece which displays a graphic “heat map” of air pollution in NYC which originates in this PDF from NYC.gov. Notice that brown area of specific density in the upper left corner of Queens?

That’s Big Allis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I find interesting in these photos of vast agglutinations of heat and gas being propelled at high pressure into the atmosphere is not that they exist, or that the plumes of Big Allis rise beyond visibility to the undoubted mile high vaults of the sky.

The remarkable thing about the 6-8 degree (fahrenheit) temperature of the surrounding air is that one can clearly observe what is normally a largely invisible phenomena- due to condensation and the interaction between hot gas and cold air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The far off plume in the shot above is rising from Astoria, where the shuttered Charles Polleti Power Plant shares a large industrial compound with six smaller and quite active ones. Astoria carries quite a load for the rest of the City, from a power generating point of view, with prerequisite tales of high childhood asthma rates and unusual concentrations of lung disease.

Luckily enough, the State of New York just approved an upgrade and expansion of one of those Power Plants on the northern rim of fabled Astoria. The NYPost.com report on that may be accessed here.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2011 at 12:15 am

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