The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

certain captives

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It’s National Raspberry Tart Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Call me Ezekial for my visions of a dire future are informed solely by the lessons of the past. When the NYC DEP people told the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee of their plans for a “waste to energy” project at the sewer plant in Greenpoint a while back (I think at the end of the last Bloomberg administration?), they also mentioned that they intended for the equipment which would convert the waste methane produced by their industry into a usable fuel – “natural gas” – on the Greenpoint Avenue side of the sewer plant, a humble narrator grew agitated.

The DEP people said “c’mon, it’s behind the fence, what could happen?” I turned around to Councilmember Steve Levin, who was observing the meeting, and said “Greenpoint has a long history of huge industrial fires, and it’s only a matter of time before a car or truck accidentally blasts through the fence, or a fire starts nearby that could threaten the perimeter here.” “Do we really want a high pressure gas manifold on heavily trafficked Greenpoint Avenue with only a chain link fence to protect it? What if?”

Mr. Levin took note, but the DEP was dismissive. The DEP is always dismissive, and the agency does not like its pronouncements or plans being questioned by unwashed rabble like myself, the State of New York, or the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not six months afterwards, a paper recycling yard across the street from the sewer plant caught fire and burned for several days. DEP had people on the plant’s grounds sweep their property facing the smokey fire with hoses, for fear that wind scattered embers from the blaze across the street might cause damage or start a fire at the plant. The next Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting came around and I got to say “I told you so” to the DEP. The councilman gave me a knowing look and acknowledged that I “called it,” and that was the end of that. The DEP people went along with their plans to install the gas equipment on a busy truck route called Greenpoint Avenue.

Of course, the Citistorage Building fire on the East River side happened a few months later, so allow me to reiterate…

Greenpoint has a history of fires that occur in large industrial buildings that tend to burn for days and days. In 1882 and again in 1919, the entire refinery complex on the Newtown Creek coastline between Greenpoint Avenue and Meeker Avenue were immolated and utterly lost, and in the 1882 fire – the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge burned down. Don’t believe me? Ask my colleague, Greenpoint Historian Geoff Cobb, or do your own research on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine my recent joy, therefore, when another of my little prophecies came true.

I was at the plant to attend a presentation offered by the DEP regarding their “Long Term Control Plan” for combined sewer overflows into Newtown Creek. The plan is a lot of hoo-hah if you ask me, a Potemkin Village’s worth of politically convenient bioswales, rain gardens, and unfunded mandates for large scale construction projects which is designed to compel future generations into finding a way to pay for it all, rather than asking it of the current one. The LTCP process, citywide, is turning out to be a wonderful example of non urgently passing the buck while billions of gallons of sewage flow into New York Harbor every single time it rains. They want to build pump houses and dig retention tunnels, but all of it begins in twenty to thirty years and…

Thirty years ago, New York City was financially crippled and crime was at an all time high, and you couldn’t give away the waterfront land in Williamsburg or Long Island City. Twenty years ago, America had “won the Cold War” and it was the “end of history.” Rudy Giuliani was already a bit crazy, but not like now… Bill Clinton was President… you would have been hard pressed to get anyone to believe the sort of dystopic world we now live in, or the property valuations of Williamsburg, were just on the horizon. Donald Trump? What?

A lot can happen in 20-30 years, and there’s no time like the present for “getting it done.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, I had attended a tour of the plant on Sunday April 22nd, and these shots were captured on Wednesday the 26th. Anonymous informants who work at the plant informed me that some driver had not recognized the presence of the fence when traveling west from North Henry Street, and crossed Greenpoint Avenue at accelerating speed, and plowed into the fenceline without braking.

As a point of trivia, North Henry Street actually does continue through the plant, it’s just closed to non official traffic. I seem to recall seeing a street sign for it inside the fence quite a while ago, but I also might be imagining it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news, which came to me in another Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting on the 30th of March, is that DEP’s partners in the “waste to energy” project – National Grid – now prefer a spot deeper within the plant’s grounds to install their equipment to harvest the waste methane which is not on Greenpoint Avenue.

Ezekial, call me Ezekial, for I am a prophet.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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2 Responses

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  1. Hey Zeke,
    In the last pic, what is that building with the curvy roof line, a bit left of center, behind the 4 smoke stacks? It looks like a roller coaster.

    Fiesta Cranberry

    May 3, 2017 at 3:31 pm


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