The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for November 8th, 2017

strange chemicals

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It’s National Harvey Wallbanger Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My colleague at Newtown Creek Alliance, Will Elkins, does a formal survey of Newtown Creek and its tributaries about once a week from the vantage point offered by a small boat outfitted with an electrically driven motor. Will collects water samples which are sent off for laboratory analysis to ascertain bacterial levels in the water, and looks around at the shorelines for evidence of this or that. I do a less formal survey of the creeklands, which is performed on foot, and documented using a camera. Will is NCA’s Navy, which I guess makes me a Marine? I dunno, just some shmuck with a camera is all I’ve ever claimed to be.

Last week, a humble narrator was perambulating around Dutch Kills, in Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing I can tell you about LIC that’s seriously changed in the last decade is the presence of large groups of people. Ten years ago, this stretch of 29th street (which is technically not a city street, but rather a “railroad access road”) bordering the turning basin of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek was absolutely deserted except for me and the folks who work in the surviving industrial buildings hereabouts. These days, 29th street has become the de facto spot for students from the various charter high schools, and LaGuardia community kids, who attend school nearby in the former “Degnon Terminal” to go “smoke a bowl.” There were about five or six distinct groups of them when these shots were being captured, whom were carefully not framed in to my shots.

Personally, I’ve got zero issues with people getting stoned on weed – I went to art school, after all, and grass smells a whole lot better to me than Dutch Kills does – but one is concerned ultimately about youthful inebriates ecstatically mucking around in an area known for its environmental degradation, lack of sidewalks, and heavy trucking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was low tide when I was walking the bulkheads – and if I can say that I have a favorite sediment mound – the one pictured above is it. This shot, and the ones following, were captured from the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge.

For those of you not clued into the Newtown Creek story, the natural bottom of the waterway is anywhere from thirty to forty feet below the surface. A lack of “flow” and the presence of several large “combined sewer outfalls” has built up a bed of sediments which lie some 15-20 feet thick. These sediments – which are a layer cake of municpal horrors that include heavy industrial runoff, as well as everything that has ever been swept into the sewer grates of Brooklyn and Queens, are commonly referred to as “black mayonnaise.” The specific mission of the Federal EPA, regarding the Superfund situation, is to remove or remediate this sediment bed found in the waterway.

In certain places – especially along the “dead end” tributaries like Maspeth Creek, English Kills, and Dutch Kills – the black mayonnaise shoals up along the bulkheads and at low tide ends up becoming exposed to the air. Doesn’t matter how pungent the weed being smoked nearby is when these sediment mounds are upwind, they’re soon all that you can smell.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the angle of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is right, the water column is illuminated at Dutch Kills, which was canalized into a more or less north/south trajectory about a hundred years back. Prior to that, it was a compromised but still natural wetland environment with flood plains and swampy edges. Vital wetlands, we’d call ’em – back in the 19th and early 20th centuries they were called “Waste Meadows.”

Visible in the shot above are some of the queer jellies which form just under the surface along Dutch Kills’ bulkheads, which are likely bacterial or fungal mats suspended in the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along the western shoreline, enormous electrical cables emerge from the masonry of the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, whose purpose is to power the single bascule drawbridge. I’ve seen Army Corps of Engineers reports stating that sampling of the shoal and sediment in Dutch Kills revealed the presence of Typhus, Cholera, and Gonnorhea extant in the mud down there. I haven’t seen that confirmed during the Superfund process, but there’s so much data about the biota of the Newtown Creek emerging that I could have missed it.

More sediment “mounding” is apparent, along with something fairly unexpected – evidence of “high” mammalian wild life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m a city boy, of course, but those tracks in the poisonous mud of Dutch Kills look like raccoon to me. I found a disembowelled raccoon on this span not too long ago, which is why I was thinking about the “trash pandas” while observing these paw prints, but again – City Boy.

For any of you “country kids” reading this, what would you say that track was left by?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A curious new addition to the black mayonnaise was noticed on this particular walk around Dutch Kills, a series of terra cotta dishes or pots, some of which were adorned with an intricate pattern.

The question of “why would somebody make the effort to travel all the way to this odd corner of NYC just to discard terra cotta pots with intricate patterns into the waters of Dutch Kills, instead of just putting them out on the curb with the rest of their household garbage” must be discarded. There are things you just don’t want to know the answer to, and mystery in the age of Google is something to be preserved and embraced.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

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