The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for January 6th, 2021

beckoning vistas

with 2 comments


– photo by Mitch Waxman

It took leaving HQ in Astoria at 5:30 in the morning, freezing my falafels off on a ferry in middle December, and then walking about a mile and a half but I managed to get to the Gowanus Canal while superfund dredging was actually happening. Pictured above is the Gowanus, as seen from the Hamilton Avenue Bridge under the Gowanus Expressway. Normal circumstance, if such a thing exists anymore, would have found me taking the G train to the elevated structure at the top of the shot – which is the Smith/9th street station. The draw bridge it overflies is the 9th street Bridge. The bucket barge and fuel barge/tug at lower left aren’t part of the dredge operations, as a note, they were there for other business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Named to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s CERCLA or “Superfund” list at the same time as my beloved Newtown Creek, Gowanus Canal involves a significantly smaller geographical and simpler pollution problem to solve than Newtown Creek does. The Gowanus Canal is analogous in terms of scale and circumstance to the Long Island City tributary of Newtown Creek called Dutch Kills, in fact. Since the problem is smaller and somewhat simpler, Gowanus got to this part of the process first, whereas Newtown Creek is still several years away from dredging. Saying that, it’s a real mess down there at Gowanus, under the water.

Before you ask – it really didn’t smell that bad. The most miserable thing, odor wise, was experiencing the exhaust pouring out of the stacks of the Tugs and other equipment as they performed their tasks. You’d suddenly find yourself standing in a pall of blue diesel exhaust when the wind bent in your direction.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were distinct units working on the various “locks” created by the street bridges crossing the Gowanus. Pictured above is the operation that was stationed between the 9th street and Union Street Bridges. Gowanus Bay narrows into the canal, and it’s crossed by seven bridges; Union Street, Carroll Street, Third Street, the New York City Subway’s Culver Viaduct (Smith 9th street station), Ninth Street, Hamilton Avenue, and the Gowanus Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dredging is something I usually see all the time, but I spend a lot of time on the water under normal circumstance. Maintenance of shipping channels in deeper water usually entails using a specialized rig with it’s own power plant that has steel “pods” which are lowered into the water and act as legs to stabilize the machine. What I saw at Gowanus were “materials handlers” with specialized grabbers on them, as pictured above.

The sediments are scooped off the bottom, the water is drained into one bucket barge, and then the solids go into another. It’s likely that the more liquid material will be decanted and then processed as wastewater or sewage would be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Hamilton Avenue lift bridge raising to allow a tug towing away one of those “solids” barges out of the canal. It’s called a lift bridge as the entire roadway lifts vertically to allow maritime egress.

As always – it doesn’t matter if the Tug is pushing, or pulling, or the barge is tied up “on the hip” it’s called “towing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Same Tug, different bridge. This is the Hamilton Avenue Bridge, which you saw in the first shot from the other side. It’s a double bascule draw bridge, but the two movable sections are parallel to each other. A more traditional setup for this sort of structure would be the Pulaski Bridge at Newtown Creek, where the two bascules are in line with each other and form an arch when closed.

More tomorrow.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, January 4th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.

“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

January 6, 2021 at 11:00 am

%d bloggers like this: