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More from the Circumnavigation of Staten Island with the USACE.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in prior posts, one was invited to travel with the United States Army Corps of Engineers on their annual harbor inspection onboard the MCV Hayward last week. The first part of the journey left lower Manhattan and then travelled along the eastern coast of the island, which was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. The USACE commander – Col. Thomas Asbery – and his crew described some of their ongoing, and a few of the upcoming, projects which they are working on that are designed to vouchsafe the area in the era of climate change. The Hayward then took a northern turn onto the Arthur Kill, a busy maritime industrial tidal strait connecting Newark Bay and the Kill Van Kull with Raritan Bay to the south.

Pictured above is the Dylan Cooper, a Reinauer company owned tugboat. Reinauer, like all towing companies in NY Harbor, paint their boats in a particular fashion. The “colorway” allows for rapid identification of a vessel while it’s under way, so you can call out on the radio to it as “Reinauer tug” long before you see the IMO identification number or vessel name painted on the hull. This practice predates modern day radio transponders, which make it somewhat unnecessary, and provides for a bit of colorful panache on the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The western shoreline of the Arthur Kill is in the state of New Jersey (Union and Middlesex Counties), and the eastern is in NYC’s Staten Island. Arthur Kill is about ten miles long, and has also been referred to historically as the Staten Island Sound. The name “Arthur Kill” is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Achter Kill” which translates as “back channel.” Arthur Kill, geologically speaking, is defined as an “abandoned river channel,” which was carved out of the surrounding land by an ancestral pathway of the Hudson River. The New Jersey side is colloquially referred to as “the Chemical Coast.” The expensively maintained depth of the water here is between 35 and 37 feet, and the channel is an average of approximately six hundred feet wide.

The Staten Island side is largely post industrial, with a few notable exceptions. Arthur Kill is crossed by three bridges – The Outerbridge Crossing, the recently replaced Goethals, and the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge. The first two are vehicle bridges, and the latter is for railroad traffic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the New York Container Terminal (aka Howland Hook Marine Terminal) pictured above, on the Staten Island side of the Arthur Kill. Currently being upgraded and massively expanded due to the acquisition of Proctor and Gamble’s Port Ivory, the NYCT was originally built by American Export Lines, but NYC bought the facility in 1973 and it’s leased by the City to the Port Authority. There’s a rail connection just upland from it, which allows for the transport of containers along the former North Shore railroad route originally built and operated by the Vanderbilt owned B&O railroad.

They handle some commercial cargo here, and there’s a customs facility, as well as deep freeze and refrigeration warehouses. Most of the tonnage moving through NYCT these days though are garbage containers, which are loaded from rail cars onto barges for transport off of Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MCV Hayward outpaced Dylan Cooper after the NYCT, and we proceeded to cross the Shooters Island reach and head towards Newark Bay. A “reach” in navigational terms is how far you can travel on a single compass heading before heading to adjust your course, if you’re curious. Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull intersect with Newark Bay at the Shooters Island Reach. To the south, some ten miles behind us, Arthur Kill meets Raritan Bay. About a mile south of Raritan Bay is the Atlantic Ocean. Newark Bay itself is formed by the intersection of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers.

Primeval Newark Bay was called the Newark Meadows, before the 1910 efforts by the City of Newark to carve a shipping channel through the wetlands. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created in 1921, and their first big project was the widening and deepening of the bay for maritime industrial purposes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1927, the PANYNJ used some of the dredge tailings to fill in upland wetlands and the City of Newark took advantage of the new land to create an airport. PANYNJ took over the airport and maritime port in 1948. In 1958, a project at the Bound Brook (formerly defining the border between Elizabeth and Newark) produced enough dredge tailings for the authority to create 90 square acres of new land and the first modern container terminal in NY Harbor was established. The terminal footprint has since expanded to 350 square acres.

The age of containerized global shipping actually got its start here in 1958 when the first container ship – the Ideal-X, a converted US Navy cargo ship – was launched from Port Newark. The cargo container concept was innovated by trucking company executive Malcolm McLean and an engineer named Keith Tattinger. In 1963, the Sea Land Terminal was established at Port Elizabeth Newark, and the rest – as they say – is history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way back to dock in Manhattan, just east of the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry, another United States Army Corps of Engineers vessel and its crew were hard at work. That’s the MCV Gelbart, and the crew members who are pictured standing on that rig tied up “on the hip” of the tug were busy removing flotsam and jetsam from the water. They were handling the “small stuff,” which Col. Asbery described as being mainly plastics – bottles, carrier bags, and the like. That’s what happens when you litter, lords and ladies, it ultimately ends up in the water.

Tomorrow – something completely different, and Friday’s post will ultimately be all about garbage again. You won’t believe what I got to do.

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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 for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

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