The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Dutch Kills’ Category

sprightly cleric

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Up Dutch Kills, with a paddle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal T. Willis Elkins, who’s the Project Manager of Newtown Creek Alliance and the co chair of the Newtown Creek CAG, sent out an invite recently inquiring whether I might have any interest in taking an evening paddle with employees of the NYC DEP on my beloved Newtown Creek – specifically up the Dutch Kills tributary in LIC and a couple of other points of nearby interest in Booklyn.

How could I resist? 

T. Willis is also one of the show runners at North Brooklyn Boat Club, found in Greenpoint under the Pulaski Bridge, so that’s where our little crew met up. We donned life vests, listened to Will’s safety speech, and got into canoes. I chose to go out in the smaller of the two boats, presuming that it would be a better spot to take pictures from than the enormous version that everybody else would be in.

The only condition which T. Willis set down for the trip was that everybody would have to row, but… cardio, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

T. Willis had timed our trip to coincide with low tide on the Creek, which is required to pass beneath the MTA’s non functional Cabin M railroad swing bridge which is – at best – just a few feet over the water. We headed into Long Island City along the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and pictured above is the second of the bridges you’ll find along the tributary – Cabin M – which is a truss bridge that can actually open and close.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks east along Cabin M towards the SimsMetal dock. DB Cabin services the Lower Montauk branch of the LIRR’s freight operations, connecting the Wheelspur and Blissville yards. The Long Island Railroad tracks follow the main stem of the waterway eastwards into Blissville, Maspeth and eventually turn north towards Fresh Pond. This traffic is maintained and operated by LIRR’s contracted freight partner, the NY & Atlantic.

Cabin M is part of the now defunct Montauk Cutoff tracks, which provided access to the Sunnyside Yards from the freight tracks along the Creek. The Montauk Cutoff itself was detailed in this post last year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We proceeded along Dutch Kills and passed under the venerable Borden Avenue Bridge, one of only two retractile bridges in the City of Greater New York. The sections of Borden Avenue it connects were swamp land until the Army Corps of Engineers blew through in the decade following the Civil War, creating first a “plank road” through the already despoiled wetlands, then a few decades later laying macadam roads and filling in the swamps with landfill. It wasn’t until 1909 that this area kicked into high gear, after the Queensboro Bridge opened. With the construction and creation  of the nearby Sunnyside Yards, and the Degnon Terminal industrial zone which surrounds Dutch Kills, this section of LIC soon became known as “America’s Workshop.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills sports a “turning basin” built for shipping, which isn’t used in modernity due to that non functioning rail bridge – DB Cabin – found at its intersection with the main stem of Newtown Creek. The turning basin is nearly a mile back into Long Island City, and you can really get a sense of how much new construction is happening in LIC from back here.

There’s also a couple of pretty large combined sewer outfalls – CSO’s – back here, which everybody’s friends at the DEP whom we were paddling with are actually responsible for. The pipes here are connected to the Bowery Bay Sewage Treatment plant in Astoria, for the vulgarly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve shown you before – lords and ladies – the abandoned fuel barges found back here, which have been allowed to rot away into the water – in previous posts. I’ve also described to you the “situation” which the American Warehouse company has found themselves in during the early 21st century – wherein the undermining of their site by the waters of Dutch Kills have cost them a pretty penny to shore up. Many, many million pennies, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way out, we passed under the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. All of the NYC DOT administered bridges on the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are maintained in working order, and I’ve witnessed this single bascule drawbridge being opened and closed.

Heck, I was a parade Marshall for its centennial, and we even had a parade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our little group visited a couple of other spots nearby, Unnamed Canal and Whale Creek, then rowed out to the Creek’s intersection with the East River for a bit. Along the way, I spotted this feral fellow in Greenpoint.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

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fetter upon

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Wandering the post industrial wastelands of America’s Work Shop – that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted the numeral above in LIC recently, adorning the loading dock of some nameless warehousing company housed in the former Waldes Koh-I-Noor site nearby Dutch Kills. The Real Estate Industrial Complex recently discovered the former Degnon Terminal, it seems, and the Waldes buildings are currently being marketed as “The Zipper Building” by the powers that be and to opportunists who have connected themselves to LIC as some sort of stepping stone from Wall Street.

As a note, five is the only prime number that ends with the number five. It’s also the only number which seems to be entirely European in origin, having little verisimilitude to Arabic or Indian glyphs that represent the number. There’s five senses, five books in the Torah, five wounds of Jesus, five pillars of Islam, and in western music – a perfect fifth is considered to be the most consonant of all the harmonies. In geometry, there’s the Pentagram, and of course – you’re reading the pentacle.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Dutch Kills, when you see a structure of creosoted logs held together with iron, as you do nearby the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge – the official term for this sort of thing is a “dolphin.” It’s meant to vouchsafe the bridge against an accidental collision by maritime traffic, but since there’s little to no maritime traffic on Dutch Kills – a tributary of the legendary Newtown Creek – these days, it’s just a thing to take pictures of.

There’s twelve former trees, infused with creosote oil, in that shot above.

Twelve is thought to be a Germanic/Old English term describing the smallest composite number which has exactly six divisors. It’s the largest number that has a single syllable name in the English language. A cube has twelve edges, the human body has twelve cranial nerves. The Western zodiac has twelve signs, as does the Chinese variant, and the 12th moon of Jupiter is called Lysithea.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk in Greenpoint, should you have a medium long zoom lens on your camera, you can observe the Sims Metal Management Company at work – processing all sorts of metallic things. In the case of the shot above, it’s derelict cars in the process of being recycled. After collection at Sims on Newtown Creek, these automobile carcasses will be barged out to New Jersey where they will be fed into a shredder that will reduce them down to metallic bits and a cloud of dust.

As I count it, there’s eighteen automobiles in the shot above.

The number eighteen translates from the Hebrew word for it (Chai) as “Life.” There’s 18 chapters in the Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the 18 book Mahabharata. Chinese tradition declares the number eighteen as a lucky one. Eighteen in binary code is “10010” which is a seven block long zip code in Manhattan – from 20th to 27th, and from Sixth avenue to the East River.

51218, you ask?  According to the National Institue of Helath, that’s the numerical designation of a gene we inherited from our single cell ancestors.

What all of this means, I can’t say, but it’s kind of freaking me out.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, May 8th at 11 a.m. – North Henry Street Project,
with Municipal Arts Society Janeswalk and Newtown Creek Alliance,
in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

threadbare accoutrement

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Yet another bit of meeting reportage, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator seems to be on a lot of “steering committees” these days. I’ve long been associated with Newtown Creek Alliance, although we don’t have a steering committee, and contrary to what many believe – I’m not a board member. I’m the official photographer for, and steering committee member of the Working Harbor Committee. Recently, I joined the steering committee of Access Queens. I’m also a steering committee member of the Newtown Creek CAG (Community Advisory Group) for the Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek.

The CAG has a series of steering committee only meetings that occur somewhat frequently, where we review and comment on various bits of policy and announcements from the EPA and the Potentially Responsible Parties who are tasked with the scientific analysis and eventual cleanup of Newtown Creek. There’s business people, community activists, policy makers, and representatives from Riverkeeper on the Steering Committee. There’s also a gaggle of Newtown Creek Alliance people on there as well, but given our overwhelming familiarity with the situation that’s sort of a natural fit. A “general” CAG meeting occurs less frequently, but that’s going to change as we get closer to the next phase of the Superfund process, which will discuss the solution to 150 years of environmental degradation based on a nearly decade long scientific survey. General meetings are open to the public if you’re curious, click the link above to find out when the next one is scheduled. If you want to join the CAG, we have a technical advisor who can guide you through the process (which is mainly writing down your name and email in a legible manner).

A recent Community Advisory Group meeting, which was open to the full membership of the CAG (not just the steering committee) occurred at LaGuardia Community College last month on the 22nd of March.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greenpoint’s Mike Schade, who has been operating as the Co Chair of the CAG, stepped down and we voted my colleague from NCA – Will Elkins – to pick up the mantle as co chair and run with it. The other CAG co chair is Ryan Kuonen, who is chair of Greenpoint’s community board’s environmental committee.

The NYC DEP, which is one of the “potentially responsible parties” along with ExxonMobil, National Grid, Phelps Dodge, and a couple of smaller corporate players like BP and Amoco, offered a presentation to the assembly explaining the concept of “ebulition” to us. Ebulition is essentially the release of droplets or blobs of contaminants from the sediment bed up to the surface of the water, and it’s commonly observed in Newtown Creek. They showed some video of coal tar bubbling up in front of the National Grid bulkheads, which was meant to be an “a ha” moment. To the initiated, however, it’s no secret that there’s 30-40 feet of coal tar and petroleum derivates in the sediments. That’s what brought EPA to Newtown Creek in the first place. Problem is that the ugly leave behinds of industry are intermingled with human waste, which is what the DEP supplies.

Long have I used the term “Black Mayonnaise.”

Prepared by their environmental contractor, Louis Berger, the logic DEP offers in their ebultion argument is that since they aren’t responsible for the presence of petroleum or coal tar in the Creek, and that since the chemical footprint of what comes out of their “combined sewer outfalls” or “CSO’s” isn’t specifically named in the Federal CERCLA – or Superfund – legislation – the community shouldn’t be overly concerned by the raw sewage they pump into the waterway every time it rains. The presentation was offered by Dr. Eileen Mahoney, who is DEP’s Superfund manager, and Dr. Ed Garvey of Louis Berger.

Dr. Mahoney and I, it should be mentioned, aren’t exactly in love with each other and she spent most of her time menacingly glaring at me while speaking, waiting for me to speak up and challenge her assertions. She didn’t realize that my colleague Laura Hoffman was in the room, and the “Mother of Greenpoint” didn’t take kindly to DEP saying that the release of raw sewage into Newtown Creek isn’t a problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek community advisory group is actually one of the best organizations to pay attention to at the moment, superfund wise. Everybody in the room is under some sort of Federal level jurisdiction, PRP wise, and therefore the fibbing is generally kept to a minimum. Even the DEP won’t out and out lie to the Feds, as there would be hell to pay. Another thing I’ve been saying for years about the Superfund is that the most interesting parts of the story will be about NYC’s vertical silos of power slamming into the Feds. Immovable object, meet the irresistible force.

I managed to convince some of my friends from LIC and Sunnyside to come to the meeting, and get the activist community of Newtown Creek’s northern shore to begin to engage in the process by joining the CAG. There’s a perception in Queens that Newtown Creek is Brooklyn’s, and particularly Greenpoint’s, problem.

I’ve long argued that this is most definitely not the case, and I’m glad to see that others are beginning to realize it too.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

illegitimate assertion

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Once, you’d tell the operator you wanted to speak to Hunters Point 3342.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walter E. Irving opened for business along Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC back in 1907, but at first his operation was just another iron and steel works. It wasn’t until 1914 that the company became commonly known as either “Irving Subway Grating” or “Irving Iron Works.”

Their honeycomb steel walkways were offered to both the Subway (as the name would imply) people and to maritime customers. It was the maritime world which made the company rich. Irving, a structural engineer, actually started his business in Astoria in 1902, but it was here on Dutch Kills in “America’s Workshop” that he had both rail and maritime access, and that’s why the company centered its operations in LIC.

Here’s a shot of the place from back in 1915.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back then, and by then I mean 1914, 51st avenue was called Third Street, and 27th street was called Creek Street.

There was no Long Island Expressway or Midtown Tunnel, and railroad freight tracks snaked around on every street. If you’re in the neighborhood today, you can still find a lot of those old tracks blistering up through the modern day asphalt. There’s “Belgian Blocks” paved streets here in what I’ve long referred to as “the empty corridor” as well. Belgian Blocks are colloquially referred to as “cobblestones.” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At its height, when their patented honeycomb steel lattice plates were being installed on merchant and naval ships, and into factorys and industrial boiler rooms, Irving’s facility commanded some 22,000 square feet of the most valuable industrial bulkheads in America here in LIC.

It remains one of the largest properties along Dutch Kills to this day, but as you’ve noticed by now, Irving Subway Grating has left the proverbial building.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early 20th century, Irving employed a staff of about 300, and the facility produced something like 50,000 feet of the honeycomb flooring material a month. The value of the grating was that water, light, and air could move through it – making it perfect for the exterior decking and ladder steps on ships – and that while it had the same strength as a plate of steel, it weighed a significant amount less. It was also appropriate for use in boiler rooms and other industrial applications due to its permittance of ventilation.

Irving also found a place for his products in the steel decking on vehicle and rail bridges, and the United States military would lay his grating down into sand and soil to create stable runways for aircraft in battle zones. Irving received accolades from the War Dept. for his industrial contributions to the Aliied forces’s victory during the Second World War. The NY Subway system, as the name of the product would imply, ate Irving’s products as fast as he could make them. If you work in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, the Tenderloin, or Herald Square, you’re probably already familiar with Irving. 

Build a better mouse trap, I guess.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Mexican conglomerate called HARSCO bought Irving, and its portfolio of patents, back in 1966. Irving continues as their IKG Industries division today, and they still manufacture those steel grids. I cannot seem to determine exactly when the Irving Plant at Dutch Kills was shut down, nor accurately ascertain the current owners of the property beyond some LLC holding company. There was an enormous fire here in 2009, which burnt away a lot of what was left of the site.

Here’s what I saw of the pre fire Irving Works back when I first starting getting into this whole Creek thing, in a post that clearly illustrated my neophyte status back in 2009.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the last seven years, I’ve watched the Irving site being slowly harvested by metal collectors – The Crows – who have grabbed every inch of copper and aluminum that they can reach. There’s a security fence with a giant hole cut in it along 27th street, but the chained up shopping carts and well fed cat colony nearby the hole indicate that somebody is living here in the ruins.

As I was by myself when these shots were gathered… well… let’s just say it’s not a great idea to barge into a homeless camp in LIC when you’re all alone, so I stuck to the front of the site nearby the hole in case I had to exit quickly. Next time I have a chum along with me, however, I plan on doing a bit more exploring – mainly because there is a lot of cool graffiti in there I want to check out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scenes familiar, and loved, in Long Island City.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

potential responsibility

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Creek Week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After visiting the Kosciuszko Bridge project, 57th avenue, and then Railroad Avenue, a humble narrator’s dogs were barking and a generally homeward course was adopted. As usual, that meant swinging down Borden Avenue and cutting over to Skillman Avenue on the way back to raven tressed Astoria. 

My favorite sections of Newtown Creek to photograph are found in LIC, along this particular tributary of the troubled waterway – called Dutch Kills.

It’s something about the light, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I haven’t been around here in a few weeks, and I discovered that a formerly fenced in section of the shoreline adjoining the Borden Avenue Bridge had been cleared away, which offered a few points of view which would have formerly required illegal trespass to capture.

Given such an opportunity, a humble narrator will always take it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking west, towards what I call the “empty corridor” found under the Long Island Expressway truss.

The LIE is some 106 feet high in this spot over Dutch Kills, and was built so to accommodate the stacks of ocean going vessels which were headed for the Degnon Terminal Turning Basin which is about a half mile away. The Federal War Dept. also required this particular height for the possibility of installing warships in the canal in order to protect the industrial sector in case of foreign invasion forces entering New York Harbor (a real worry, prior to the Atomic Bomb).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, you see the sort of scene most life long Queensicans would associate with the words “Newtown Creek.” Still, check out that tuney old truck – cool, huh?

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mortal assurances

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Did you feel that? Did a truck just go by?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The geology of Western Queens is fairly fascinating. A humble narrator is interested in all things, and one of them is the very ground beneath his feet. Historically speaking, the zone which modernity calls Queens Plaza and Court Square in Long Island City were wetlands. There is rock down there somewhere, but the “craton” which underlies this section of a very Long Island was deposited by the glacial retreat at an odd angle which slopes downward as you head south. A craton is essentially a giant boulder, and that underground slab of rock which is found in LIC’s neck of the woods is buried beneath layers of naturally occurring clay and sand, and a loosely packed 20-30 foot thick layer of anthropogenic landfill material sits atop it. True geologic bedrock doesn’t appear until you get to Maspeth, where the terminal moraine of Long Island begins.

Municipal landfill began to reduce the wetlands and swamps of LIC beginning in the early 19th century, which buried many of the now lost tributaries of both Newtown and Sunswick Creeks which flowed through these parts. Once, you could sail from Newtown Creek all the way to Northern Blvd. at 31st street, and by once I mean 1881. The desire to stamp out typhus and cholera in LIC, Dutch Kills, and Astoria during the “sanitary era” is part of what provided impetus for the landfill process.

The construction of the Queensboro Bridge and the Sunnyside Yards in the first decade of the 20th century finished the job of reclaiming what was – by all accounts – a pestilential swamp. Modernity has forgotten all about that, just ask the East Side Access guys who accidentally found one of those buried waterways  – a catastrophic discovery which delayed their progress and added billions of dollars onto the cost of the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, I’m not much of anything, let alone an engineer or a geologist. What I am, however, is a guy with a collection of old maps and a series of books which describe what things were like in the area surrounding Jane Street Queens Plaza from the colonial period to the start of the 20th century. The engineers who worked on Sunnyside Yards described some pretty esoteric conditions at the corner of Skillman and Thompson – for instance – including mud that would form 18 feet high waves spontaneously as the tidal action from surrounding waters transmitted through it. The Ravenswood houses are built on a tidal pond/marsh/swamp formed by Sunswick Creek, and the area around the present day LaGuardia Community college was known as the “waste meadows” until Michael Degnon got ahold of them in the 1910’s and filled the wetland swamps in with rock tailings harvested from the subway tunnels which his company was working on.

I’m also a guy who understands that even the stoutest limb will crack if it’s made to bear weight beyond its tolerance. Now, it’s pretty unlikely that a craton, which is a boloid of rock the size of an asteroid that is miles across and thousands of feet thick, would crack. It could sink, however, into the glacial till which it rests upon. This fills me with real concern, given the whole climate change/sea level thing that the Republicans claim isn’t happening. How much crap can you pile in one place before something “gives”?

The firmament is literally shaking in LIC these days, what with all the high rise construction going on, and the truck loads of structural steel and concrete rolling through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My buddies in construction tell me that once you find solid footing – driving steel and concrete down until it meets that rock craton – you can pretty much build as big as you want. The piles sit on the rock, then you create a concrete slab which provides for a stable surface that spreads weight load out over a large area, and you build. Engineers calculated wind sheer, vibration, soil solidity and a thousand other factors years before the first shovelful of earth was turned. An elaborate bureaucracy of planners and building specialists have scoured the plans, looked for any possible error or issue, and made corrections when warranted. Believe when I tell you, these people won’t allow any single structure to crack the earth open anywhere in NYC.

Saying that, they are all largely looking at projects on an individual basis, and not a holistic whole. What will happen when everything scrapes the sky? Will the ground continue to shake, or will LIC just sink?

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excellent notion

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Water Pollution can actually be quite lovely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was captured before the cold waste section of the year descended upon us all, with its crappy light and chill air. It depicts the Borden Avenue Bridge in Long Island City, which spans Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. You’re looking west in this one, and you can just make out the Empire State Building over in the Shining City of Manhattan on the horizon.

The following shots aren’t at the level or perspective of the water, instead they were captured recently from the deck of the Borden Avenue Bridge itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Knowing the sort of things I know isn’t pleasant. I’ve actually had some casual training in recognizing the various things you’ll notice on the surface of Newtown Creek. Your humble narrator can distinguish between fresh petroleum and old, the difference being the sort of “sheen” which it effervesces.

Saying that, this olive colored snot pulling along on the tepid currents of Dutch Kills may – or may not – be petroleum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If it is petroleum, it’s probably a subaqueous deposit of historical pollution which has worked its way up to the surface having become “moussed” on its way and has formed a sort of aerated foam. It can also be grease, or something that floated out of the open sewers found along Dutch Kills. Heck, it can be a whole series of unpleasant things, only a chemist would be able to tell you for sure.

Whatever it is, it’s fairly interesting from a visual point of view – no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, we’re moving into an era in which the Newtown Creek will be cleaned up and many of its environmental issues are going to be sorted out. I’m terrified by this, as the place is going to end up being “all niced up,” which will make it boring as heck. I’ll miss the oil sheens, condoms, dead rats – all the variegated crap which is defined as “floatables.”

I guess there’s always Luyster Creek, or Anable Basin, or the Kill Van Kull… luckily, there’s a long list of polluted waterways and future superfund sites here in the City of Greater New York which are splendidly filthy.

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