The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

lethal foliage

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Would that a humble narrator might tell you that these shots were captured whilst riding upon some Hedorah like cacodaemon, but it was actually during one of last fall’s Newtown Creek Tours and onboard an entirely mundane NY Water Taxi that the subject of this “Maritime Sunday” posting was photographed.

As you can see, something was advancing toward us on the Newtown Creek that day, something newly born.

from epa.gov

Newtown Creek, located in the City of New York, is a part of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary and forms the northern border of the Borough of Brooklyn and the southern border of the borough of Queens. In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8 mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City. More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Built Nov. 04, 2010- this is the tugboat Crystal Cutler and her articulated barge (the Patricia E. Poling) plying the Newtown Creek. The article linked to below will tell you everything you could possibly ask about this tug and those who Captain and command her.

What mysteries they might have witnessed along the Creek, however, are not discussed in this profile.

from professionalmariner.com

The 70-foot, 1,500-hp twin-screw tug Crystal Cutler has been pushing and occasionally towing a 15,000-barrel clean oil barge since the tug was introduced in 2010. The tug places a high demand on her captains and crews as she ventures into shallow rivers and estuaries, moving about in a highly dynamic harbor with loads of gasoline, fuel additives or heating oil for small oil terminals.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amongst the larger harbor community, Newtown Creek is seldom referred to in glowing terms. There are those who dispute its role and historical significance to the maritime industry- as their eyes and hearts are drawn to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the West Side of Manhattan, and the gargantuan modern ports in New Jersey.

Many would like to abandon it as an industrial corridor entirely, saying that its day as a working waterway is done, and give it over to kayaking and other recreational occupations.

from tugboatinformation.com

Founded in 1995, Poling Cutler began operations near the time the former Poling Transportation went out of business.

The Founders of the new company were Ed Poling, whose grandfather started the former Poling company, and Gary Cutler who spent years working in the financial world before getting involved in Marine Transportation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the greatest sins along the Newtown Creek is precisely how few of its docks are utilized today. Most of the modern business along the Creek looks toward truck transportation to bring their goods to market and for the delivery of raw materials, ignoring their valuable docking rights and imprimature. Miles of bulkheads, expensively installed during prior generations, are allowed to rot away.

What a wasted opportunity.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Moving essential bulk materials by barge is more efficient economically and environmentally. From what we hear, a single barge has the same capacity as 28 – 56 long haul trucks, depending on the industry. Compared to other transportation modes, barge transport of bulk materials is safer in terms of worker injuries and generates far fewer emissions of particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, CO2 and nitrous oxide on a per ton mile moved basis.

Despite the critical importance of barge transport as a best practice for industries on Newtown Creek, much of the bulkhead along this waterway is in disrepair. Overall bulkhead condition reveals a trend of disinvestment in maritime transit and a decline in related industries. According to Army Corps of Engineers, there were 19 businesses with working docks in 1999, compared to the nine that remain active today, as of January 2011.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When you boil it down, the whole purpose of the Newtown Creek in its current form is to bring bulk goods into New York City by barge. Admittedly, the days of Standard Oil, Phelps Dodge, and the great Lumber interests are long gone- but… imagine some farmers in upstate New York loading their harvest goods onto a barge, and sending a floating green market directly to Long Island City or Greenpoint or even Maspeth. The barge could return to the farmer laden with cash and whatever else might be needed for the next harvest, completing a virtuous circle.

Imagine standing on the shoulders of giants, rather than rifling through their corpses like so many bugs.

from dot.ny.gov

Commercial and industrial development along Newtown Creek began circa 1854-60 and accelerated rapidly, spurred by low land values, water access for ships and boats, and relative remoteness from populated areas or regulations. The first kerosene refinery in the United States (1854) and modern oil refinery (1867) helped transform Newtown Creek into an industrial waterway. The first few industries also included a distillery near the Newtown side of the Penny Bridge, and the Peter Cooper glue factory relocated from elsewhere in Greenpoint to a site in Bushwick north of Maspeth Avenue10. The influx of industry and jobs, aggressive real estate development in and around Hunter’s Point, including LIRR’s presence on the creek in 1861, and the explosive growth of refined petroleum products all enhanced Newtown Creek’s attractions and helped transform the drainage into an industrial waterway circa 1860-1880. At the Industrial Revolution’s height, Newtown Creek’s industries were flourishing, bringing thousands of people to work at its plants and factories.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The United States Coast Guard sometimes refers to Newtown Creek as part of “America’s Maritime Superhighway”, a vital industrial waterway which must be protected from the interests of those too short sighted to realize its potential to reinvigorate the economies of those communities through which it flows. It is the very definition of the future, and New York’s destiny is and has always been directly linked to it.

It’s heart warming to see clear eyed mariners like those onboard the Crystal Cutler plying its waters.

from nycppf.org

Significant Maritime and Industrial Area

Newtown Creek, at over 780 acres the city’s largest SMIA, abuts portions of the Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Long Island City, and Maspeth industrial areas. The waterfront area is characterized by heavy industry and municipal facilities, many of which are water- dependent. Newtown Creek is also the largest SMIA in terms of employment.

Although from 1992 to 2008 the SMIA lost roughly half its jobs, from 2000 to 2008 the number of jobs in the SMIA grew by nearly 1,400 to reach a total of approximately 15,000 jobs. Nearly half of the jobs in 2008 were in transportation and warehousing and wholesale trade. However, the business mix is becoming much more diverse. In the eight-year period examined, non-industrial jobs grew by more than 35 percent.

2 Responses

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  1. […] The Kimberly Poling was observed recently, as it headed west along the infamous Newtown Creek, and has sailed directly into Maritime Sunday at this- your Newtown Pentacle. The tug is owned by Poling and Cutler, and we recently examined one of their other tugs on this self same stretch of the Creek- the Crystal Cutler. […]

  2. […] in from refineries in New Jersey and beyond by articulated Tug and fuel barge combinations like the Crystal Cutler, which is pictured above. The digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are […]


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