The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

jouncing descent

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The situations which I find myself in…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long story short, my pals at HarborLab ended up building a floating dock which will be used by LaGuardia community college’s biology people to study wetlands restoration techniques and theories on Newtown Creek’s LIC tributary – Dutch Kills. Problem is that a 19th century railroad bridge at the mouth of Dutch Kills has been non functional for about twenty years, so towing the dock into the canal in the manner that any normal person would accomplish the task – y’know, like using a boat with an engine to tow something heavy – is a non starter.

That’s how I found myself in a freaking canoe on Newtown Creek a few weeks ago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

HarborLab is based on the Queens side of Newtown Creek, at the Vernon Avenue Street end, which is where we launched from. I was in a boat with Lynn Serpe, long time environmental and community activist and the former Green Party candidate for City Council in Astoria, and one of the folks behind the Two Coves Community garden over in Old Astoria. Pictured above are Patricia Menje Erickson, HarborLab’s Facilities Manager, Erik Baard, and volunteer Phillip Borbon – who had the unenviable duty of rowing the dock itself roughly a mile back from the Vernon Avenue street end to the turning basin of Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The next few days will bring you an image saturated series of posts detailing the excursion. Dutch Kills leaves the main body of Newtown Creek a little over three quarters of a mile from the Creek’s intersection with the East River and heads northish in the direction of the Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza for about a mile. Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you that Dutch Kills is far and away my favorite part of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. Thing is, because of that decrepit rail bridge blocking the channel, you can’t get in there using a motorized vessel except at extreme low tide.

Low tide was part of the calculations made by the HarborLab team, and we timed our trip to coincide with it lest we be barred from entry or end up stuck in there waiting for the water to slack out again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One generally discourages the aspirations of people who want to do this sort of thing, given the horrendous state of water quality in Dutch Kills, but the HarborLab folks (along with my pals at North Brooklyn Boat Club) are well versed in the “rules of the road” in the maritime industrial waters of New York Harbor so I agreed to come along and record the journey.

After all, this was the first time something on Dutch Kills was going to change in nearly fifty years, with the exception of the Borden Avenue Bridge repairs from a few years ago. Sometimes, “Newtown Creek Historian” means you have to be there when something is happening in the name of preserving it for posterity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s how I ended up in a canoe on Newtown Creek photographing HarborLab delivering a floating dock to the Turning Basin of Dutch Kills. There were times when I had to actually row the boat, but luckily Lynn Serpe did most of the work, allowing me to wave the camera around. A couple of times, the radio crackled out instructions to get shots of them doing this or that or reminding me to shoot them with the skyline behind them.

Their radio crackled back with me saying “NO ART DIRECTION NEEDED.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What you’re looking at is part of the LIRR Montauk Branch, a swing bridge called DB Cabin. It’s not long for this world, as the LIRR and MTA are rekajiggering a bunch of their operations in LIC at the moment. The Wheelspur Yard actually has freight rail running through it again, for instance, and there’s been a lot of chatter about plans for the relict Montauk Cutoff tracks which has reached me recently.

Anyway – what DB Cabin mainly functions as these days is as an obstacle to navigation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the situation as we encountered it, at low tide mind you. There’s about four to five feet of clearance between the rusting deck of the bridge and the surface of that gelatinous analogue for water that distinguishes Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The dock sits up out of the water, of course, as did its pilots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First step was getting their own canoe into the water and hitching it up to the floating dock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then a bit of “paddle fu” was enacted, and they slipped under DB Cabin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As Lynne Serpe and I approached the bridge, we noticed an amused gaggle watching the progress.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In tomorrow’s post – we leave the geese behind and move inexorably towards the loathsome Turning Basin of a cautionary tale known as the Dutch Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 11th, 2015
BROOKLYN Waterfront Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] [3] 2015, June 10. Waxman, Mitch. Jouncing descent. Newtown Pentacle. Retrieved from: newtownpentacle.com […]

  2. […] Community College’s science programs, and I tagged along to document the effort in “jouncing descent,” “grim facade,” “listless drooping,” and “stinking […]


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