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muffled shouting

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Everything in Queens has a cool story attached to it, if you care to look.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My reason for coming over to the forbidden northern coastline of Queens on this particular day was to gather a few street side shots of the NYC DEP’s Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant. I know… who dares to spend a Saturday evening walking over to the local sewer plant? One such myself, that’s who dares!

According to the NYC DEP – “The Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant went into operation in 1939 and is designed to treat 150 million gallons of wastewater a day. The plant serves approximately 850,000 residents in a drainage area of more than 15,000 acres in northwest Queens,” and “At the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant, there are four holding tanks that have the capacity to store a combined 550,000 cubic feet of sludge.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bowery Bay is the fifth largest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, and you’ll find it on Berrian Blvd. between Steinway and 45th streets in Astoria, on the forbidden northern coast of the borough of Queens. Check out that bas relief on the Art Deco building with curved walls and glass brick windows! More on that in a minute, after the sewer story. 

Long story short, by the beginning of the 20th century, NY Harbor was in essence an open sewer which was severely compromised by both industrial and biological waste. Remember, before cars there horses and oxen, and everybody and everything poops at least once a day. They used to just wash into all the sewers, which were open to the rivers and harbor. This is why the rich people lived on the central spine of Manhattan, rather than at the water’s edge where the poor people gathered in tenements. In 1909, a fellow named Dr. George Soper (who was also the guy who identified Typhoid Mary) led the first comprehensive survey of the harbor’s ecology. In 1914, Soper led the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, which released an 800 page long “Main Drainage and Sewage Disposal Works Proposed for New York City: Reports of Experts and Data Related to the Harbor” document which made recommendations about curatives. 

By 1920, a plan had been drawn up, and in 1929 the Department of Sanitation was designated as the agency which would execute it – digging sewer pipes, connecting existing drainage systems in what was now the five boroughs, and building water treatment or sewer plants. They would also do what DSNY continues to do today, but what’s now the DEP used to be part of Sanitation. Then the Great Depression came along. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

President Roosevelt created the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to jump start the national economy and put the talents of the jobless masses to work on vital infrastructure projects around the country. Hoover Dam, as well a good number of schools, libraries, parks, and post offices got built by WPA in this fashion. WPA didn’t forget about art, and made it a point of including public artworks on many of its projects. The WPA people worked with DSNY to build three new wastewater treatment plants in NY Harbor (between 1937 and 1944) – Wards Island in Manhattan, Tallman Island, and Bowery Bay in Queens. 

The bas reliefs adorning the Bowery Bay plant are by an Italian American sculptor named Cesare Stea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Bowery Bay plant sits quite low to the water, and is in fact within the current zone you’d expect to flood due to coastal storms. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy did quite a number to the place, I’m told, and if current projections about sea level rise are accurate, the DEP is going to be experiencing a lot of problems at Bowery Bay in the coming decades. 

Two of Stea’s Bas Reliefs depicting depression era wastewater workers are covered (there’s four), along with an Art Deco entranceway to the plant, by plywood. Presumptively, the structure is still being repaired from the walloping it took during Hurricane Sandy. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having hung around the more modern plant in Greenpoint has familiarized one with the shape of things, and the shot above depicts the settling tanks and high pressure air pipes which aerate the “honey” at the treatment plant. The stuff spends a bit of time in deep concrete tanks with pressurized air being forced into it from below. This causes solids to migrate downwards in the liquid column for post drainage collection, and oils and greases to migrate upwards for skimming. By modern day standards, there’s a lot left to be desired by the Bowery Bay Plant. It was designed with neighborhoods of two story homes and factories in mind, not city block sized fifty story residential towers. 

Given all the real estate activity in Western Queens in recent decades, and the sort of plans being bandied about by the powers that be in Manhattan for remaking the place in their own image… you’d think…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It just isn’t the way people think anymore, I’m afraid. 

What we’re doing, municipal plan wise, is akin to cooking a large holiday meal, not setting up the table with plates and silver wear, and just flopping the food onto the table. You then tell your family and guests to just lick it all up, and that probably next year you’ll go out and buy plates. Or at least, we will leave that to the next Mayor to deal with. 

Dr. George Soper would probably be angry, if he hadn’t died in 1948.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm

slouching suggestively

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Astoria’s Luyster Creek. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, one decided to stay in Astoria rather than trek over to Newtown Creek in pursuit of some photos. Funnily enough, HQ is roughly equidistant between the southern border of Western Queens – Newtown Creek – and the Northern – Bowery Bay. Luyster, or Steinway, Creek is accessible from the street in only one spot that I’ve ever been able to find. It’s a tributary, essentially, of Bowery Bay. Bowery Bay is a section of the water heading eastwards of the East River which splashes up against Astoria’s northern coastline, and which moistens Rikers Island and LaGuardia Airport. Eventually, you hit an invisible line analogous to East Elmhurst and then you’re in Flushing Bay. 

Like Newtown Creek, Luyster Creek is highly contaminated by a variety of “point sources” revolving around industry and municipal sewer outfalls. Unlike Newtown Creek – Luyster Creek doesn’t have any community groups of concerned citizens, or alliances devoted to “reveal, restore, revitalize” looking after it. Oddly enough, Luyster Creek also sits square in the district of the Chair of the City Council’s environmental committee who has never mentioned it, but there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I like to come by here about once or twice a year to check up on things. The illegal dumping along its shoreline is generally of the light industrial type – last Saturday there were a few dozen rolls of roofing tar paper, rotting insulation panels, and somebody had decided to drop off a bunch of building scaffold sections along the shore as well. Access is limited to the waterway, and these shots were accomplished while standing on top of a combined sewer outfall. 

There were quite a few critters doing their thing down at Luyster Creek just before sunset, birds and such. The water was also positively boiling with icthyan activity. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That floatables boom you see in the shot above is because of me, since the last time I was down here there was a stream of oil pouring into the water from a privately owned sewer hidden behind those piles and I made a call to one of my Newtown Creek contacts who works for a state agency that polices such matters. The garbage piled up behind it will presumptively be collected by a skimmer boat at some point. It just pisses one off that such citizen action is required in Astoria, where, as mentioned, the City Councilman directly responsible for overseeing environmental matters is based. Additionally, the City Department of Environmental Protection – or DEP – has its Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant based just a few blocks away. You’d think… Well… lessons learned on Newtown Creek, and the world only makes sense when you force it to do so.

I guess this means I’m going to have to start thinking a lot more about Luyster Creek in the coming years. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

menace to

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Luyster Creek, Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a short break this week, and single images will be greeting you through the July 4th Holiday week while I’m out shvitzing and photographing things.

Today is July 6th, and just like the rest of the calendar, there’s always a series of events that occurred over the centuries which seems to suggest that history might not be all that random. Alternatively, it probably is, and it’s the nature of human beings to attempt to form ordered patterns out of chaos.

  • 1777 – American Revolutionary War: Siege of Fort Ticonderoga: After a bombardment by British artillery under General John Burgoyne,American forces retreat from Fort Ticonderoga, New York.
  • 1854 – The first convention of the United States Republican Party is held in Michigan.
  • 1892 – Three thousand eight hundred striking steelworkers engage in a day-long battle with Pinkerton agents during the Homestead Strike, leaving ten dead and dozens wounded.
  • 1944 – The Hartford circus fire, one of America’s worst fire disasters, kills approximately 168 people and injures over 700 in Hartford, Connecticut.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 6, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Astoria, Forbidden North Coast

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Today is the Fête du Vodoun in the Republic of Benin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shlepping around Astoria one day, my footsteps found me over by Luyster Creek on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. The real estate shit flies have recently been getting pretty active nearby, with medium sized developments that absolutely do not have any connection to local elected officialdom’s blind trusts and out of office legal partnerships. That sort of thing could never happen in modern day NYC, after all. Dimly lit rooms have replaced the smoke filled ones, I’m told, as it’s now impolitique to smoke indoors. I don’t want to talk about any of that this week, however.

I came here for the boids. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another urban waterway in Queens which I describe as a “future superfund site,” Luyster Creek can also be referred to as Steinway Creek – as it adjoins the Steinway piano factory and once upon a time, old man Steinway used to have his mahogany delivered in log form via Bowery Bay and Long Island Sound by floating it into Luyster Creek lumberjack style. One wrote a profile of the waterway at my old Brownstoner Queens column a few years ago, click here for it.

To understand the modern incarnation of the waterway, let’s just say that these shots were captured from a spot at the end of Astoria’s 19th avenue and that I was standing on an open sewer leaking sewage overflow from the nearby Bowery Bay sewer plant. The shorelines on the western side are pretty much all Consolidated Edison property, but as you head north to where it meets Bowery Bay, you’ll encounter a couple of fuel depots on the eastern side. The water smells like bad cheese and goat poop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite all that, it’s still one of the spots where migratory water birds like to hang out during the winter. The shallows seem to host a fairly abundant amount of whatever delicacies they prefer to quaff. I’ve never been sure where “Duck” ends and “Mallard” begins, but there’s a few of one or the other in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m fairly sure that these friggin things are Mute Swans, which as of quite recently (January 1st) are no longer targeted by Department of Environmental Conservation hit squads for being a specie termed “invasive.” The DEC hit squads are nothing to mess around with, incidentally. A team of hard men and and women with combat experience and the “thousand yard stare,” they recently exterminated a group of coyotes in this area with extreme prejudice.

I’ve heard accounts of that operation which sounded like something from a Charles Bronson movie.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

accident or evil

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Things I’ve seen, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One decided to take a walk through Hallets Point, or Astoria Point as the Real Estate Industrial Complex has christened it, recently. The fires of gentrification have been stoked on the forbidden northern coast of Queens, as you may have heard. My purpose behind this walk revolved around path finding the probable right of way for the proposed BQX street car system, which I find an interesting intellectual challenge – an Einsteinian “thought experiment” if you will.

As a note, I have nothing to do with the project – instead I’m just curious about how they’re going to “thread the needle” through parks and housing projects to make this particular dream of NYC’s oligarchs come true.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving back in my neighborhood on the southern border of Astoria, one encountered another member of the growing population of “not homeless” types who enjoy an afternoon tipple and then a short nap on the public way. Nostradamus like, your humble narrator is, and my predictions that the toleration of a population of drunken bums by the 114th precinct along Broadway would begin to draw in others is playing out. At least one bank has had to hire a night time security guard to vouchsafe its ATM laden lobby against them, and the steps of the Broadway/Steinway library have become an open air camp site. I look forward to seeing these folks riding and urinating on the BQX.

This fellow is a regular, and commonly observed sleeping and or manipulating some body part found deep in his the pantaloons. This shot was captured on the corner of Steinway Street and Broadway, which can hardly be considered an out of the way location.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Me? I’ve been a bit too busy to care about the “bum” situation in Astoria for the last few weeks. Boat excursions, walking tours, a never ending series of meetings – all have been consuming my time.

Speaking of, I’ll be speaking early tomorrow at the Greater Astoria Historic Society for “Queens Waterfront” symposium they’re conducting with the Waterfront Alliance. This will be an all day affair, but I’ll only be there in the morning as I’ve got to conduct a tour of the Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek in the afternoon.

Come with? Ticketing link below.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 20, 2016 at 11:30 am

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Wash out, man, wash out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’ll recall that at the end of February, there was a Götterdämmerung of a rain storm, one which produced quite a bit of coastal flooding. I got a phone call the day after the storm that declared that the shoreline at Astoria Park had fallen victim to the event. This would be some storm, thought I, which could bring a wave of water up the 15-20 feet from Glass Beach at Hells Gate all the way up to Shore Road.

I had to go take a look. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From where Newtown Pentacle HQ is located, on Astoria’s Broaday in the 40’s, it’s only a small “schlep” to get to Astoria Park. In a car, it’ll take you around ten minutes, but only because of lights and traffic. It’s a 30 minute walk, or 45 if you lazily saunter.

Along the diagonal path, there’s a lot to see, and since Astoria rules… why not?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Shore Road is elevated some 15-20 feet over the East River shoreline at Hells Gate. The rocky beach down there is littered with jetsam, it would be flotsam if it was still suspended in the water column, and the smaller particles of jetsam are mixed in with the gravel and small stones with little bits of river polished glass – hence “Glass Beach.”

Regardless, one reiterates – that would have to be one HELL of a storm to bring the water all the way up to Shore Road from Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Observations were enacted, and there were two wash outs which had deposited a terrific amount of quite slippery mud onto both sidewalk and street. The trail of soil and vegetation led back uphill to Astoria Park itself, which actually jibed with what I thought to have been the case. It was the park that flooded during the heavy rains, and the river had not in fact risen. If the East River rose 20 feet, waves would be lapping away at Steinway Street’s intersection with Northern Blvd. and we’d be talking about the Sunnyside Yards lake.

Mayor de Blasio would, of course, call it the Sunnyside Yards lake and resort and announce his intentions to install waterfront affordable housing along Skillman Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fairly obviously, the two mud and water flows emanated from the two Bridges over Astoria Park, which gathered the storm water and then fed it down their outfall pipes into and onto the soil in Astoria Park, which caused the “lahar” or slippery mud deposits which were observed on Shore Road.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

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Sludge Boats, baby, Sludge Boats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots are actually from the height of that shoulder injury period last month, and represent a desperate desire one acted upon to “shake it off” by indulging in a bit of exercise. The weather was less than cooperative from a light point of view, and the affected limb was less than pleased at the rest of my body moving around, so I decided that since I was in the “hell of pain” I’d simply head over to Hells Gate and indulge the horror.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily for my diversion starved and somewhat depressed state of mind, the MV Red Hook was observed while debarking from the Wards Island dewatering facility across the river. Wards Island is the end point for the sewage sludge process, which is operated by the NYC DEP. Centrifugal machines are fed the material, which has the consistency of syrup or warm honey at the end of the thickening process at the various neighborhood sewer plants, which is carried here by the DEP’s fleet of “Honey” or Sludge boats. The dewatered material is compressed into “cakes” and sold for use as fertilizer on non food crops such as cotton and Christmas Trees.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MV Red Hook is one of NYC’s older generation of Sludge Boats, although it’s the newest of its type – having come online in 2012. The newer class of Sludge Boats has been discussed here at Newtown Pentacle before.

from NYC.gov

The Red Hook sludge vessel was built over a three-year period in Brownsville, Texas by Keppel AmFELS. Once completed, it took seven days to make its way to New York City, arriving on November 19, 2008. The vessel has recently completed post-delivery dry-dock inspections and adjustments at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and is ready for service. Each six-person crew consists of a captain, chief engineer, assistant engineer, mate and two mariners. Crews work a 40-hour week divided into 14, 13, and 13 hour shifts. The Red Hook is slightly over 350 feet long, about 53 feet wide, with a depth of slightly over 21 feet. It has eight storage tanks with 150,000 cubic foot capacity equivalent to 1.2 million gallons. The Red Hook weighs over 2,098 long tons and is designed to travel at 12.75 knots or approximately 15 miles per hour. On a typical week, each vessel makes 14 round trips and visits eight wastewater treatment plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All of the DEP’s honey boats will find themselves heading to or from Wards Island periodically, after making their rounds at one of the City’s 14 sewer plants. Hells Gate is a great place to spot them, and Shore Road along Astoria Park is a great place to observe Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are many who would agree with me, in my assertion that the view from Shore Road rocks.

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