The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for May 31st, 2017

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It’s National Macaroon Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody hates a tourist, they say. Me? I love ’em, especially when I’m the guide and the tour has come to my beloved Newtown Creek. 3.8 miles long, Newtown Creek is a tributary of NYC’s East River which defines around 3 miles of the currently undefended border of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Newtown Creek has multiple tributaries of its own – Dutch Kills, Unnamed Canal, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek, the East Branch, and English Kills. It’s largely surrounded by an industrial zone which was once home to petroleum refineries and manufactured gas plants, which has left behind an unwholesome environmental legacy in the ground and water which earned the Newtown Creek a place on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Superfund” list.

There are multiple bridges crossing the Newtown Creek. Starting from the west – you’ve got the Pulaski Bridge; at Dutch Kills you’ve got the DB Cabin and Cabin M rail bridges as well as the Borden Avenue Bridge, LIE truss bridge, and Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Back on the main waterway, there’s the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. At the East Branch there’s the Grand Street Bridge, and at English Kills there’s the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge and the Montrose Avenue rail bridge. Pictured above are the 1939 and 2017 model Koscisuzcko bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Early 21st century industry on the Newtown Creek is typified by the waste handling trade, and whether it’s the recycling yards or the “putrescent waste” handlers, there are dozens of waste transfer stations found along the bulkheads. There are still petroleum and gas businesses found along the water, but the name of the game these days is distribution rather than manufacture. Newtown Creek is one of the favored release points for NYC’s combined sewer system, and about 1.4 billion gallons of untreated sewage finds its way here annually. The TV and film industry, or “Hollywood,” has recently been acquiring huge parcels along the waterfront. At the mouth of the Newtown Creek, near its intersection with the East River, enormous housing and real estate projects are underway which will bring a large residential population to its shores.

The hard bottom of Newtown Creek is about 25-40 feet below the surface, depending on where you are. The “soft bottom” of Newtown Creek is roughly 15-20 feet down – a bed of toxic sediment composed of industrial waste (petroleum and byproducts, coal tar, raw sewage – everything that has ever fallen or been released into the water) which is referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.” The removal of this black mayonnaise and the restoration of normal environmental conditions in the water is the stated mission of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund team.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Endemic environmental pollution exists in the upland properties surrounding the Newtown Creek. The “Greenpoint Oil Spill” is the second largest oil spill in American history, after the Deepwater Horizon Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s other pockets of oil on the Queens side in Blissville. On both the Brooklyn and Queens sides, plumes of chemicals and solvents move about in subterranean mud with the tides. Thousands of heavy trucks ply the streets surrounding the Newtown Creek daily. The unending miles of concrete, and nearly complete lack of vegetation, causes the summer temperatures to rise between ten and fifteen degrees higher in the industrial zones than in the surrounding neighborhoods  in accordance with the “Maspeth Heat Island Effect.” The air is filled with particulate materials delivered by automotive exhaust from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, Long Island Expressway, and Queens Midtown Tunnel.

Welcome to the Newtown Creek.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper Visioning, June 3rd, 1-4 p.m..

Imagine the future of Newtown Creek with Riverkeeper and NCA at the Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) details here.

Newtown Creek Alliance History lecture with NCA historian Mitch Waxman, June 3rd, 5:00- 7:30 p.m.

An free hour long lecture and slideshow about Newtown Creek’s incredible history at the gorgeous Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) followed by a walk around the roof and a Q&A – details here.

Green Drinks Queens LIC, June 5th, 6:00- 9:00 p.m.

Come celebrate UN World Environment Day with Green Drinks: Queens on the LIC Waterfront! This year’s theme is “Connecting People With Nature.”details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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