The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

pillars and niches

with 3 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You might recall, Lords and Ladies of Newtown, that back on December 11th of 2010 the 100th anniversary of the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was commemorated by the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission and that I was one of the two Parade Marshalls for the celebration.

There were a few postings about the bridge found here, at your Newtown Pentacle, which detailed the storied history of the structure and it’s environs. Additionally, more than once has the Degnon Terminal been mentioned in prior posts, and appropriately so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also mentioned in prior postings (parts one and two), the Newtown Creek Alliance had tasked a small group of it’s members (myself included) with attempting a photographic catalogue of the bulkheads of Newtown Creek and it’s smaller tributaries. Noble in it’s aspirations and massive in capability and resources, Riverkeeper sent a vessel and captain from it’s vast fleet to shepherd us through these very murky waters. These shots were captured from a small launch boat capable of crossing both low ceilings and containment booms which was little more than rowboat with an outboard motor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Beneath the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, the waters of the long neglected industrial canal called Dutch Kills have been silting up with the worst sort of filth for decades, knowing not the presence of dredging or channel depth engineering. Here, the sediments pile up and erupt from the water.

The only flow of water here comes from rain and sewage, this is a stagnant and forbidding place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is only a trickle of dry weather discharge dripping from this combined sewer outfall hidden away beneath the bridge. It hadn’t rained for a couple of days, but still, there was some flow. Though minor, this sort of discharge can add up to hundreds of gallons a day, carrying- for instance- the mop water that a Chinese restaurant on Broadway in Astoria might dump into the corner sewer drain nightly (yup, actual thing, observable every single day).

The reason I mention Astoria is that most of the drains on the Queens side resolve back to the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In this posting, which led up to the Hunters Point Avenue bridge event mentioned above, some logic is offered as to how to decode the DEP “SPDES” signs which are required to be displayed above CSO discharge points. Like all things government, a bizarre nomenclature and specific system of numbering applies to the CSO’s.

It took your humble narrator a little bit to dope it out, so it is offered to save you from having to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vehicle traffic was rattling by overhead on Hunters Point Avenue, and we observed the surprisingly good condition of the bridge anchorages. Notice the extreme high tide line of encrusted sediment lining the structural elements of the bridge. It would interesting to know what sort of organisms exist in that slime and residue, and what they could tell us about the true nature of the water here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bubbles of mephitic gas which had been been popping all around the boat since we entered Dutch Kills began to subside at this point, perhaps it is the permanent shadows beneath the LIE and the two rail bridges which allow the methane producers in the sediment to thrive. The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge’s roadway is a grate which allows quite a lot of light to filter down to the surface.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It must be admitted that long have I desired to see what might be hiding down here, and observe the understructure of this bridge. As it might be guessed, your humble narrator is a bit of an infrastructure geek, and the lesser bridges of New York City often surprise the observer.

This used to be a double leaf bascule, you see, whose mechanism was replaced in relative modernity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot is from the December 11th Centennial event and shows the other more easterly orientated shoreline, where the bascule hinge and bridge house are located, showing the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge in an open position. The spot I shot it from was the abutment seen in the prior shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills is a straightaway and engineered canal with a widened terminus, and the term for it is a “turning basin”. Overall, it’s shaped like a giant letter “T”. Heavy industrial concerns all around Dutch Kills built and maintained docks with which they could transfer materials which came to them by barge to rail (and truck, but rail was the key), and then to factory floor for processing. The manufactured product of these industries not destined for the local market would also then be shipped out via these docks.

Today, nothing much happens on the waters of Dutch Kills, and nearly all of the rail infrastructure is relict and abandoned- or purposed solely for passenger service to and from Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The benefits, costs, and upkeep of an intermodal transportation hub like this are massive. Unfortunately, most of the modern business in the area is oriented toward an automobile and truck culture rather than to the locomotive or maritime city, and thse docks are abandoned and rotted away. The once mighty rail lines are interrupted or orphaned, and the great factories which they once supplied are either empty, used for warehousing, or carved up into a hundred smaller spaces.

Where titans once thrived, ants now scratch by.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow, the Dutch Kills turning basin at this… Your Newtown Pentacle.

3 Responses

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  1. Mitch: Wonderful article and photos, as always. A few things:

    1. If the Chinese restaurant does not throw the mop water in the sewer, where should it be thrown? In their toilet, in their slop sink? Wherever they throw it, wont it wind up in the same place?
    2. I get quite often disoriented when reading the post. Maybe a small accompanying map with perhaps a “you are here” arrow or star?
    3. This tiny rowboat with a motor you’ve mentioned all along, how ’bout a photo?



    August 22, 2011 at 9:33 am

  2. […] or parts one, two, and three of this trip down Dutch Kills. This is the last of the four postings describing what I saw at […]

  3. […] was detailed in: “ponderous and forbidding“, “ethereal character“, “pillars and niches“, and “another […]

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