The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Search Results

The Blissville Oil Spill, update

leave a comment »

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Queries were sent out to various parties about the status of the Blissville Oil Spill on the Newtown Creek, and this statement was received from the good folks at Riverkeeper:

“Riverkeeper is concerned about the apparent lack of maintenance of both the hard and absorbent booms that are supposed to be keeping oil from seeping into the Creek,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director at Riverkeeper. “We take any oil pollution in the Hudson River and NY Harbor extremely seriously, and fully expect DEC and the site owner to do the same.”

As an admission, these shots were gathered on board the Riverkeeper patrol boat, whose Captain was gracious enough to consent to my request to get close to the Blissville site.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The situation of the Northern Bank of the Newtown Creek, in Queens, was first commented on at this- your Newtown Pentacle- in the December of 2011 posting “An oil spill… in Queens“, and further views were presented in March of 2012 in “Blissville Update“.

Kate Zidar, executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance (a group of which I am a member and for which I serve as historian) said:

“If we have learned anything from the Greenpoint Oil Spill it should be that seepage from the bulkhead can indicate a much larger issue for the adjacent neighborhood. We can’t claim ignorance of what the seepage at this Blissville Site could indicate. We need to understand the extent of this contamination and get the right mitigations in place ASAP.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that private conversations with State and City officials have continued, but not too much seems to be happening. The investigation into the matter is seeking out culpable parties, and deciding on a course of action to follow. In their defense, the officialdom referred to above very well might be legally constrained from public comment at this point, so I’m willing to give them a pass.

For now.

Of course, while everyone is figuring out who to sue, oil is still seeping out into the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s no secret that the short end of the stick, from a municipal point of view, is offered routinely to Queens (and the Bronx) by the powers that are. Neither is it a revelation that if this were an ongoing event on the Hudson River that everybody from the Mayor and Governor on down would be posing next to it and rendering funding to seal things up tight.

This is however- the Newtown Creek- and in particular on the side of the Creek where the borough motto should be “Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself”, and I said that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent posting at the Newtown Creek Alliance website, detailing what Riverkeeper’s patrol experienced during a rain event on the Newtown Creek, showed that these booms are easily swept out of position but “Welcome to Queens”. This event has been ongoing since mid 2011 but “Welcome to Queens”. Wells sunk at nearby properties already administered by environmental officials have revealed some seven feet of oil sitting over the water table, but “Welcome to Queens”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lords and Ladies, how long is long enough for oil to be directly seeping into area waterways?

Look at what is happening on the surface here and ask yourself the familiar question- Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

blissville update

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just in case you were wondering, not too much new to report on the oil situation in Blissville Queens, which is found on the northern shore of the lamentable Newtown Creek. Our friends at Riverkeeper continue to investigate, as do everyone’s friends at the State DEC. Conversation with highly placed members of both organizations indicate that they have people working on it.

These photos from the beginning of February in 2012 would seem to dispute that. Compare to the same area in August 2011.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The conversations were informal, and were initiated by your humble narrator. Concurrently, I’m not going to “report” the substance of these exchanges yet, as I’m not “that kind” of blogger. “That kind” would seek to embarrass or denigrate the process and participants for puerile amusement and or self advancement. This is not the case, and I draw a line between what a source tells me privately versus publicly. Suffice to say that things are moving along and that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

The Newtown Creek Alliance is aware of the issue as well, and we are working on it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of you may have noticed that I said “we” referring to NCA, and in accordance with some standard of full disclosure which only one such as myself adheres to- the group has awarded me the title of “Historian”. I’m picking up the fallen banner of my friend and mentor, Bernie Ente, and will strive to earn the honor by continuing to reveal the occluded history of this place.

The initial assessment of the leak, as presented in the posting “oil in queens” back in December of 2011 has garnered little attention from the mainstream press. The sole venue which ran a story on it is the DNAinfo website, their posting can be accessed here. If this was Manhattan, I’d be fighting the NYTimes for access.

But seriously, who cares anything about Queens?


March 5th, as in tonight:

Riverkeeper and NCA ask: How’s the Water? How’s Newtown Creek?

Join Riverkeeper and the Newtown Creek Alliance for a presentation on water quality in the Hudson River Estuary and its tributaries, focusing on the waters around Manhattan Island and in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.

March 5, 2012, 7:30PM to 9:30PM

Brooklyn Brewery, 79 North 11th Street, NY map

and March 6th, as in Tuesday

tenement blocks

with one comment


– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described yesterday, on the 27th of September my friend Carter Craft offered to shuttle me around Newtown Creek onboard his boat. These photos are from that excursion, which is likely my penultimate trip on the Creek. That’s the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge pictured above, and the POV looks westwards along the creek towards LIC. This spot is 1.37 miles from the East River.

The NYC DOT, whose 1987 vintage double bascule drawbridge this is, also refers to the thing as the J.J. Byrne Memorial Bridge. A former saloon singer and later a Commissioner of Public Works for Brooklyn, Byrne became Borough President in 1925, succeeding the previous BP – Joseph A. Guider – who died while in office. As to why the rather unremarkable Byrne ended up in the top spot, look no further than his Brother in Law – John H. McCooey – the political boss of Brooklyn who was known as “their man in Brooklyn, Uncle John” to the Tammany Hall players over in Manhattan. Byrne would also die in office, and just to show you how long the lines of political patronage in NYC government are – Michael Bloomberg is the Mayor who presided over adding the “J.J. Byrne” moniker to the bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We continued eastwards along the Newtown Creek, past the spectacle of the Green Asphalt outfit filling a barge with their product. A single maritime barge carries the equivalent cargo of 38 heavy trucks. The only hope NYC has to survive the next century without filling every single street, all the time, with heavy trucking is maritime in nature. What have we done with our waterfronts, accordingly? Luxury apartment buildings and eradicating ship to shore infrastructure and industrial centers… but, alas… nothing matters and nobody cares.

Green Asphalt, and companies like it, sprung into existence after the 2010 Solid Waste Management Act was rammed into existence by the Bloomberg people. Prior, when a roadway was milled, the asphalt surfacing that was dug up out of the roadbed would be sent to landfills. Green Asphalt receives this material nowadays from the NYC DOT road crews and contractors who maintain our streets. It’s heated up using steam, and a bit of fresh material is introduced into the stuff, which is then sent back out to be reapplied to the roadbed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We floated past the Queens side site of the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States – the remnants of the 1854 vintage “North American Kerosene Gas Light Company” of Abraham Gesner. Later acquired by Charles Pratt (Standard Oil Company of New York), Mobil Oil would inherit the site and operate an industrial lubricant manufacturing plant here until the second half of the 20th century.

One of the petroleum enforcement actions which ExxonMobil has had to oblige on Newtown Creek started one day in 2011 when I was tagging along on one of Riverkeeper’s patrols of Newtown Creek and when I noticed that oil was migrating out of the bulkheads in this area. That’s the day that the story of the “Blissville Seep” began. The Riverkeeper folks shortly got the “official” ball rolling with the regulatory agency – NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. ExxonMobil admitted a modern day culpability for the deeds of their long ago corporate brethren, and deployed their environmental contractors (under the supervision of NYS DEC) who are busily installing all sorts of equipment in these industrial quarters to handle the situation.

This POV is on the water side of Review Avenue, behind the line of factory and warehouse buildings – and the LIRR tracks – opposite First Calvary Cemetery.

Only oil spill I ever got to help discover, at least. This was also the beginning of my whole “Citizen Waxman” shtick.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the project to replace the Kosciuszcko Bridge suddenly received an Andy Cuomo sized shoe up its keister, I had already been cataloguing the DUKBO section of Newtown Creek for a few years. Anything collected or written about, in this area, received that particular tag. Just as this project was kicking into gear is when what I was doing on Newtown Creek got noticed by a whole big bunch of people, including The NY Times.

That’s when Citizen Waxman was invited to join the Kosciuszcko Bridge Stakeholders Advisory Committee, and that put me right in the center of the whole rebuilding and replacement project. All of a sudden, I was in the same room as Congressmen and City Council people regularly. That’s also right about when I started working for Atlas Obscura and others, doing Newtown Creek walking and vehicle tours nearly every weekend during the summer months for several years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For one of these tours, my buddy Joey and I transported a bunch of wooden palettes from his job site at a haulage company to a weed choked mud hole along the creek in Maspeth. We laid the palettes down on top of the Poison Ivy and dodged the clouds of flying insects which we’d disturbed. Formerly, you had to just bust your way through thorns and vines to get down to the water. I’ve always been big on safety for people that came on my walks, so Joey and I created a plank road of palettes at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road site. Eventually, after talking about its potential endlessly, I managed to “put something on the map.” Today – people actually come here as a destination, and they hang out by the water. Artists, musicians.

To each and every one of my friends, whom I’ve convinced to do utterly illogical and over the top things with me over the years along the creek… thank you. This is why.

The Plank Road has since received historic signage, and Newtown Creek Alliance has undertaken a stewardship program at the place. The ground has received some landscaping as well. It’s a site which will also be preserved through the superfund process, which is another feather I can point to in my cap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal Carter turned the boat into English Kills, which is technically a tributary, but it seems like it’s just the bitter end of Newtown Creek.

This is one of the most environmentally damaged sections of the waterway, as a note. Also – “Kills” is ye olde Dutch for Creek. This spot is about 3 miles back from the East River, and it’s right at the turn out from the main channel. The Grand Street Bridge is nearby, and in accordance with my zone system acronyms – this area is tagged with DUGSBO, or Down Under the Grand Street Bridge Onramp.

More next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“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 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

muttered formulae

with one comment

Deadman’s curve and the Pratt Oil Works, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, one would not be seen marching along the LIRR tracks in Blissville, but I had my reasons. It was a Sunday afternoon, anyway, meaning that the chances of there being any rail traffic at all on the Lower Montauk would be slim to none so I decided that it would be a good time to throw the dice and hope that I wouldn’t get squished by a passing locomotive. There’s plenty of places to dive out of the way, if I were able to discern an approaching train, but that’s kind of the issue – trains move pretty quickly and the physics of how sound moves around the air dam created by the engine as it’s moving seriously reduce the “early warning” time. Saying all that, I didn’t get squished, but do not recommend you chance it yourself. It is illegal trespass, after all.

Me, I was scoping out the latest wrinkle in the environmental story around the fabled Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I went to a meeting a couple of weeks ago at the NYS DEC offices in Long Island City, which discussed the “Pratt Oil Works Site” or as I’ve been referring to it for several years – “The Queens County Oil Works of Charles Pratt” or alternatively “The Blissville Seep.” ExxonMobil has taken responsibility for the site, which ultimately used to belong to its corporate parent Standard Oil, and has (under DEC guidance) begun the process of siphoning “product” out of the ground. Said product, the ExxonMobil folks said, is distinct from the liquid product which has been oozing from the Creek side bulkheads into the water. The modern day owner of the site is largely the Waste Management company, which operates a waste transfer station along Railroad Avenue that handles DSNY collections and loads up the Garbage Train. Said garbage train provides framing in the shot above. The Queens County Oil Works was in operation from 1842-1949, whereupon the property was subdivided and sold off. ExxonMobil representatives described the materials their contractor Roux will siphoning out of the ground as “Lube Oil and wax” and the petroleum product oozing into the Creek as “LNAPL” or Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid. LNAPL is lighter than water and floats on top of ground water.

ExxonMobil’s contractors, Roux Associates, who handle the Greenpoint Oil Spill for them directly across the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, has been activated to handle the Blissville situation. Roux has installed 62 wells on the property, 42 of which are recovery wells and the other 20 are monitoring wells. Waste Management, separately, has several issues they’re dealing with on the site, including a high level of acidity in the soil and the presence of toxic chemicals – specifically Toluene and Chlorinated Volatile Organic Compounds. Waste Management will be aerosolizing these chemicals, meaning that they will be using a process called “SPARGing” which will release them into the open air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

ExxonMobil representatives were cagey about the quantity of “product” in the ground, even after I confronted them about specifics. Saying that, I’m certain they know exactly what’s down there, as engineers who have installed 62 wells don’t just do so randomly and hope for the best. Waste Management claimed that their timeline for remediation of both the soil ph conditions and the presence of “chemicals of concern” would be four to eight years, whereas the ExxonMobil folks said it’s an open process and wouldn’t commit to a timeline.

Oddly enough, a review of the combined project’s boundaries corresponds neatly to the property lines of the former Queens County Oil works. Luckily for Blissville, here in Queens, subterranean oil deposits respect above ground political and property lines. If you are technically minded, or just curious enough to “get it straight from the horse’s mouth,” follow this link for the NYS DEC fact sheet.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

hereditary predilection

with one comment

Queens is mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

No more. The Mayor’s plan to warehouse New York City’s most vulnerable citizens in a neighborhood of warehouses, two blocks from the Newtown Creek Federal Superfund Site and one block from the Long Island Expressway – thereby creating a two to one ratio of actual residents to homeless shelter residents in the Blissville section of Long Island City – seems to have become the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. No more. The needs of the elites of Manhattan do not outweigh the needs of Queens. No more.

On Tuesday last, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer grilled DHS Commisioner Stephen Banks about this plan at City Hall, and community members gathered on the steps of City Hall in protest over the Mayor’s plan. Assemblymember Cathy Nolan sent her representative David Agioloro to show her support for the cause. No more.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Monday last, at Gracie Mansion, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney joined with the Blissville Civic Association to protest the Mayor’s plan at the gates of the Manhattan mansion he lives in. Western Queens’s elected officials stand in solidarity with Blissville, as does Brent O’Leary of the Hunters Point Civic Association, Senator Michael Gianaris, and your humble narrator. No more.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Next week, as a note, the NYS DEC will be presenting their findings regarding the Blissville Seep – where oil has been migrating into the waters of Newtown Creek from the Queens side bulkheads less than a mile from the Mayor’s three homeless shelter. Their informal presentation on the former Queens County Oil Works of Charles Pratt will take place on Thursday, May 24th at the NYS DEC offices on 21st street in LIC.

No more.

Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details

May 17th – Port Newark Boat Tour – with Working Harbor Committee.

For an exciting adventure, go behind the scenes of the bustling Port of NY & NJ on our Hidden Harbor Tour® of Port Newark! Get an insider’s view of the 3rd largest port in the nation, where container ships dock and unload their goods from around the world. See how the working harbor really works and learn about what all those ships and tugs do. See giant container terminals, oil docks, dry dock repair, and more! Tickets and more details here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 17, 2018 at 11:30 am

%d bloggers like this: