The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for October 1st, 2019

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Arthur Kill with the USACE, in todays post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described yesterday, I was invited to join with about a hundred other water facing activists and government officials aboard the MCV Hayward for the United States Army Corps of Engineers annual inspection of NY Harbor. This time around, the USACE wanted to discuss their projects and initiatives playing out on Staten Island and at the Port facilities in Newark Bay. After navigating beneath the Verrazano Bridge, the Hayward entered the Arthur Kill – a roughly ten mile long tidal strait which forms Staten Island’s border with New Jersey.

That’s the NJ side tower of the Outerbridge Crossing pictured above, a 1928 suspension cantilever bridge (thx Dan S) operated by the Port Authority. It connects NY route 440 with NJ route 440, offers a 143 foot clearance over the water, and with its approaches the Outerbridge Crossing is just over three miles long. It’s named for “Gene” Eugenius Outerbridge, who was the first chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For somebody with my interests, Arthur Kill is a wonderland of maritime industrial splendors. Given that it’s fairly difficult to get here by boat, given the distance and time/fuel equation, it’s a rare treat for me to be waving the camera around while moving north along it. Also compounding the treat aspect is the time of year (early autumn light in NY Harbor is at the perfect relative angle) and of course there was also the company. While I was shooting this, I was joking around with members of the EPA team from the Newtown Creek Superfund, who are normally quite staid and maintain a “professional” demeanor in our usual encounters. I also got to hang out with the Deputy Commissioner of the DEP, a few people I know from the City Planning arm of NYC Government, and a gaggle of Graduate students and their Professors who are studying various aspects of the harbor. Good times.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To my eye, that’s a former coaling station on the New Jersey side of Arthur Kill. I could be wrong, but I don’t want to inquire too deeply as it’s important to me that there’s still things out there in the Harbor that I don’t know everything about. The New Jersey side of Arthur Kill is often called “the Chemical Coast,” due to a rail line just upland called the “Conrail Chemical Coast Line” which is part of the PANYNJ expressrail system at Port Elizabeth Newark.

The Chemical Coast moniker first appeared in the late 19th century, when the colorants and dyes industry began to base themselves in this section of New Jersey. These industrialists took advantage of the abundance of manufactured gas byproducts being produced around NY Harbor. The red in the American flag, and the blue, are after products of gas manufacturing. Those businesses got forced out when Standard Oil took over the NJ side coastline, and the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey was established. SOCONJ eventually changed its name to ESSO and later to EXXON.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are numerous tributaries and secondary waterways feeding into Arthur Kill – on the New Jersey side you’ve got the Elizabeth, Rahway, Passaic, and Hackensack Rivers (I met citizen activist counterparts for Newtown Creek Alliance from each onboard) as well as the Morse’s and Piles Creek. On Staten Island, you’ve got Lemon, Old Place, Sawmill, and Bridge creeks. Also on Staten Island, you’ve got the infamous Fresh Kills.

That’s the Dann Towing tug Ruby M navigating past the largest man made object on the planet, which is in Staten Island and which the Fresh Kill still flows through. Draining most of the western half of the island, Fresh Kill was designated as NYC’s primary garbage dump and landfill by Robert Moses back in 1947. Between 1948 and 2001, 20 barges a day of garbage – some 650 tons per day – was layered into the pile at the Fresh Kills landfill. NYC Parks took it over in 2006, and converted the now covered mound into a park. Fresh Kills instantly increased NYC parkland by one third.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the future projects which USACE discussed onboard was doing something about the old Witte Ship’s graveyard just north of Fresh Kills. A maritime scrap yard established in 1930, which is a shadow of its former self, the Witte graveyard is nowadays owned by the DonJon towing company. The Army Corps folks discussed their concerns about slicks of unknown composition they’ve observed coming from the wrecks, and the nuances of what would essentially be an excavation job to clean up and remediate the area.

Cotter Dams were mentioned, as well as an extremely large number of dollars.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moving northwards along Arthur Kill, we slotted into the channel under the brand new and recently opened Goethals Bridge replacement. The original Goethals was built at the same time as Outerbridge Crossing, 1928. Named for the first supervising engineer of the Port Authority – Gen. George Washington Goethals (who also happened to be the construction supervisor of the Panama Canal) – the original bridge offered two lanes in each direction. The new model sports three traffic lanes, is meant to have a pedestrian and bicycle lane, and the engineers built the thing with the capability of eventually carrying a mass transit light rail line, should the need arise sometime in the next century.

More tomorrow.


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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 blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 1, 2019 at 11:30 am

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