The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for October 31st, 2022

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one described the circumstances of a navigation of Newtown Creek on September 27th during which the photos in today’s, and prior postings, were captured. The small boat I was riding in had been navigated all the way back to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge by it’s Captain – Carter Craft. There’s still a bit of navigable water beyond this span, a double bascule drawbridge owned and operated by the NYC DOT, but I seldom go back there in anything larger than a rowboat and I don’t do that often at all.

Down Under the Metropolitan Bridge Onramp or DUMABO, that’s how I “tag” anything which I’ve written about this bridge, or the area directly surrounding it in Brooklyn. The English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek is entirely contained within the political boundaries of the Borough of Brooklyn, in its East Williamsburgh section.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

English Kills is entirely hidden from view on the surrounding streets. A once natural waterway canalized by the various Corporate entities which once housed themselves here, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. From the surrounding streets, you’d never know it was there if it wasn’t for the industrial noises and horrific smell. The odor is not unlike what you’d expect were you were to shit into a bucket of rubber cement thinner, and then set it out to sit in direct sunlight, while a running diesel engine out gassing exhaust. The sound is a “constant din” as in there’s no specific point source for it, rather there’s an atmosphere of noise echoing off the factory and warehouse walls.

The canalized shape of English Kills follows the jigsaws grid of the surrounding streets, which causes its waters to stagnate around the right angled turns. The presence of CSO’s – or Combined Sewer Outfalls – all along Newtown Creek means that the only fresh water entering English Kills comes from these upland drains. This flow is a mix of storm water, road runoff, and sewage. The latter is full of piss and poop, if you need me to point that out. The runoff and storm water washes through the neighborhoods first, carrying garbage and whatever might have dripped out of vehicles passing by on the roadways, and then into the stagnant water column of the tributary.

Because of the stagnation, a bed of sedimentation sits 15-20 feet thick under the surface of the water, sometimes poking out into the air at low tide. The sediments are referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Historic records suggest that the natural waterway that was once here, prior to colonization by the Dutch, was fed by upland streams and rock springs running down into the waterway’s basin from the highlands surrounding it, in modern day Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Bushwick. It’s the availability of that fresh water bubbling up from the rock springs that drew German beer breweries to establish themselves in these areas. The springs were capped, and the ground water claimed. That was the first industrial nail in the coffin of this part of the larger waterway. Contaminants and pollution from industrial plants literally miles away on the Creek would end up getting pushed back here and since there was nothing tidally pushing back, the bad stuff settled to the bottom. The Black Mayonnaise encountered “here” can be very different from conditions encountered “there,” despite the fact that it’s the same water body. Even on English Kills, the section you’re looking at in the shot above is entirely different from the hellscape found a half mile away in the zone around the apocalyptic Montrose Avenue Railroad Bridge nearby Newtown Creek’s terminus, at Bushwick’s Johnson Avenue.

Few of the modern businesses on English Kills use their maritime bulkheads, once amongst the most valuable in NY Harbor or even the world due to the nearby Evergreen Line Railroad tracks – which are today’s Long Island Railroad Bushwick Branch tracks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Open sewers dating back to the Civil War are seen here.

English Kills is the extermination of ration and hope, and a cautionary tale about municipal indifference. The NYC DEP, who operate those CSO drains mentioned above, found themselves under regulatory scrutiny by New York State a few years ago due to the low levels of oxygen present in these waters. The low oxygen situation is caused by sewage bacteria, which they allow into the Newtown Creek via the CSO’s. The answer DEP came up, since doing anything at all about the outflows themselves would be very expensive to the City, was to instead build an aeration system into the waterway. Giant bubble wands, reminiscent of a hobbyist aquarium’s setup, pump air into the water, which causes surface turbulence. These bubbles theoretically cause atmospheric oxygen to diffuse into the water.

The air flow also introduces mechanical energy into the bottom sediments and causes them to rise and coat the shorelines, where the so called black mayonnaise becomes exposed to the air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Grand Street Bridge, a swing bridge, is pictured above. The center of that bridge is where the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens is found. If hostilities ever break out, this will be a flash point and no man’s land where campaigns of armed attrition will play out.

Our time on Newtown Creek was nearing an end and my pal Carter captained us back toward Greenpoint, and the Manhattan Avenue Street End where he picked us up earlier in the day. A humble narrator was on an emotional roller coaster, it should be admitted.

“Every time might be the last time.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along our journey back in the direction of the East River, nearly three miles back on the Maspeth side, we saw a guy fishing in Newtown Creek.

Tomorrow, more! And then even more! More all the time, now with extra more! Now – more than ever – more!

“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

October 31, 2022 at 11:00 am

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