The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Coconut Cream Pie day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a story about yet another Astoria Hullabaloo, this one involving the NYC DEP. Back in the third week of March, whilst walking Zuzu the dog along her normal sniffing route, one noticed liquid bubbling up out of a manhole – or access cover – on 44th street midway between Broadway and 34th Avenue here in Astoria. Back then, it was a slow flowing trickle of water – maybe five gallons an hour.

A week later, on the 29th of March I had the dog out again for her outing, after noticing that the flow of water had increased significantly, I finally shrugged my shoulders and accepted the fact that since no one else was going to do anything about this situation before the street exploded in a geyser – I called 311 and reported the thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first week of April arrived and after querying the neighbors about whether or not anyone had shown up to investigate, one was not surprised that – in fact – no one from the NYC DEP had shown up at all. Don’t forget that the borough motto is “Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself.”

If it’s water related, DEP is the agency that handles investigation and repair, in terms of the City process. Procedurally – if it’s their pipe, they send out a city crew or contractor to fix it, if not – they figure out whose pipe it is and write an order for the property owner. This is pretty straight forward. Ultimately, you don’t fool around with any of the four primal elements, whether it be fire, water, air, or stone.

The first week of April is when I called Councilmember Van Bramer’s office and apprised his staff of the situation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP said that “they were aware of the leak and keeping an eye on it.” By the second week of April, the water flowing down 44th street had gained in volume and flow, and was fast becoming a stream. Wind blown trash began to catch in the curbside puddles and rivulets, and was being carried towards the corner of Broadway by the water.

There it was carried into the catch basin and into the sewer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Other access covers along the path of the water, like this electrical one, were inundated and in some cases completely underwater. During the second week of April, I called Councimember Van Bramer’s office again to inquire if they had heard any news about the leak. They were under the impression that DEP was working on it.

Note – The NY&QEL&PCo screed on the hatch cover stands for “New York and Queens Electric Light and Power Company” (incorporated 1901, absorbed by Edison in 1913), which is one of the 170 smaller gas and electric corporations that were “consolidated” into the CONED conglomerate during the 20th century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While all of this back and forth was going on, the leak grew larger and larger.

A now constant flow of water, roughly equivalent to letting a garden hose endlessly empty into the street, was moving north on 44th street from the bubbling manhole cover at mid block. At this point, I had made contact with someone I know at DEP and made the upper management of the agency aware of the situation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a fairly modern Consolidated Edison transformer pit access cover in the shot above, which was under a couple of inches of flowing water for most of the month of April. Remember last summer, when I told you about the transformer explosion and fire on my corner? If you’re asking yourself “why does he care about this stuff,” that’s why.

The first week of May is when I hit my breaking point with this situation, as I watched my friends who run the bodega across the street from HQ get a ticket from a Sanitation Cop, who was fining them for the water swept garbage that this flowing stream continuously transported in front of their shop and into the sewer catch basin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By the second week of April, some of the neighborhood fellas on the block had put out chairs and set up a hookah, saying that they had decided to sit by the water.

That’s the source of the leak, another NY&QEL&PCo access cover found mid block on 44th street, in a photo shot on May 2nd.

It had been bubbling like this for about five weeks at this point and the flow was still increasing daily. I called Councilmember Van Bramer’s office again, his staff was frankly stunned that the situation was still ongoing, and I also informed them of the unfairness of the ticket received by my buddies at the bodega.

Team JVB jumped into serious action at this point. Seriously, when it comes to quality of life issues, Team JVB is best of breed and sets a standard which the rest of the City should be envious of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I specifically asked them to conspicuously use my name with DEP, and to say “yes, that Mitch Waxman, the one from Newtown Creek.” Now to be clear, Councilmember Van Bramer certainly does not need any help in being taken seriously, but when the subject of the DEP comes up… I’m sort of the fly in their ointment, along the Newtown Creek, and there’s precious few of the “bigwigs” who haven’t suffered my wrath… so I knew that when the Commissioner’s office saw my name attached…

I don’t play nice with people who lie to me on a regular basis. They know I can be mean spirited, routinely ask pointed questions, and will not just accept their pronouncements at face value.

water main

video by Mitch Waxman

An atypical video (for Newtown Pentacle) is offered above, depicting the bubbling water sometime around the end of April.

On Friday, May 5th, DEP investigators finally responded to the gathering storm and determined that the leak was not coming from a city owned pipe, rather it was a residential connection that was leaking due to a tree root infiltrating it. The home owner who owns the pipe is now on the hook for not just the repairs, but also paying for the thousands of gallons of water which were released (last I checked, that’s $1.36 per 100 gallons). An uncalculable amount of garbage and street trash was also swept into the sewer system. The bodega guys are appealing the sanitation ticket. Team Van Bramer could have been spending their time on more useful things. I had other things to do as well.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the DEP had inspected and assessed the situation back in March in response to the initial 311 call – this whole chain of events could have been avoided.

Just another Astoria Hullabaloo, I guess.


Upcoming Tours and events

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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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

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