The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for June 6th, 2019

swiftly followed

with one comment

Picking up after yourself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You know things have gone “over the top” when a humble narrator is the one telling everybody else that it’s time to police the area, grab a broom or a sponge, and start cleaning things up. I’m notoriously uncaring about such matters, other than when hygiene and food safety are involved. You should see my office desk. Saying that, there’s just junk and crap scattered everywhere these days and it’s depressing. It’s also recursive. If you see a lot of garbage lying about, your societal cue to avoid adding to it is cancelled out. Might as well chuck that beverage container into the pile over there, or toss some other discard about. Leave some construction debris, illegally dumped yes, on a street corner in Queens and watch it multiply almost as if by magic.

Remember, in NYC, legality is determined by the proximity of the Police. Things you shouldn’t do according to statute are illegal only when the Cops are around, when they’re not… well… how’s that “war on drugs” going these days? Speed limits for traffic? There any cops around? Ride my bike on the sidewalk and against traffic? You get the idea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The photo above and the one below were captured on the Eastern side of the Newtown Creek last Monday. The after effects of that week long banding of thunderstorms is on display in the one below, showing the garbage pile along the shoreline, deposited into the water column by the “CSO” or Combined Sewer Outfall system. The shot above is from right alongside the Grand Street Bridge, where the NYC DEP has been operating part of their newly installed aeration system. Basically an aquarium bubble wand, the aeration system is designed to increase oxygen levels in the water and promulgate the biologies one would expect and hope for from a local waterbody – fishies, shrimpies, crabbies, birdies, and so on. Anoxic conditions in the water caused by bacterial invasions from the CSO’s have plagued Newtown Creek since the American Civil War. Ship’s Captains used to sail into the Creek to rid their wooden hulls of worms and barnacles, after all.

What the aeration system has done, which I do not believe was anticipated by those who promoted and engineered it – as well as forcing DEP into building the thing (I’m looking at you, Gary from DEC) – is creating a “meringue” of cooking oils, grease, petroleum, and garbage which has formed into a filmy foamy skin on the water’s surface and all along the littoral zone shorelines. This meringue is now choking out anything it manages to coat, which brings us back to the fishies, shrimpies, and crabbies. Best laid plans of mice and men, and Gary from DEC, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot is from the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road shoreline, captured on the same day as the one above. Notice how the meringue border is forming an edge with the surface water of Newtown Creek, and the way that the garbage and “floatables” are being constrained by it and pushed against the shoreline? Right in the center of the channel is the aeration system, which causes big belches of bubbles to break the surface. It’s reminiscent of the storytelling from old Godzilla movies in appearance, showing the ocean boiling right where the big G was about to appear from. The kinetics of the water breaking and bubbling up in the center of the channel are designed to increase oxygenation by introducing surface turbulence. What they’re doing, however, is carrying the bottom waters (and likely the Black Mayonnaise sediment bed) up. Theoretically, they’re also introducing bacteria and viruses into the air column. Demonstrably, the currents created by the system are driving the meringue and garbage into the littoral zone along the sides of the channel.

So, why’s that an issue? The shallows and tidal areas are where you’d expect to find shellfish attaching themselves to anything they can. Filter feeders like the oyster or the ribbed mussel can process hundreds of gallons of water a day. They literally eat the organic materials out of the polluted water and piss out clean water. In terms of “energy” and expense spent in cleaning the water up, and counteracting our societal tendencies towards pouring raw sewage into inland waterways like Newtown Creek, seeding the littoral zone with millions of filter feeders is the way to go. Unfortunately, the aeration system is now creating a shoreline blanket of greasy filth which precludes that.

Oysters won’t do squat where plastic bottles are concerned, of course. For that you’d need a platoon of specially trained Raccoons.

Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 6, 2019 at 1:00 pm

%d bloggers like this: