The Newtown Pentacle

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guttural accent

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Old acquaintance be forgot, all that jazz, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last post of 2016 right here, lords and ladies, coming to you from the Empty Corridor of LIC. As y’all know, my favorite part of the concrete devastations for many years has been the splendid isolation it offered, which is getting all screwed up by real estate development. There’s so many more people around these parts than there were ten years ago… where’s a humble narrator got to go to find some solitude and listen to his HP Lovecraft audiobooks? I suppose there’s always Calvary Cemetery, but…

The Empty Corridor, I would mention, is a term of my own invention. It’s the zone of LIC found down under the Long Island Expresway – or DULIE. You’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate people, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s an MTA owned railroad access road which isn’t exactly a NYC DOT street, despite it having a “29th street” sign hanging on it. It adjoins the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, connecting Hunters Point Avenue and 47th avenue. If you send mail to one of the businesses found on this street, you can write the address as “One Dutch Kills” rather than “29th street” and it will be delivered. That’s something I learned in 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the subject of looking forward to 2017, the battle of Queens looms large. The Mayor of NYC announced, a while ago now, that he intends to deck over the titan Sunnyside Yards and build what promises to be a disastrous number of housing units there without a concurrent buildout of infrastructure. Bill de Blasio; the big little mayor, the dope from park slope, the vainglorious ideologue – he’s got another thing coming if he thinks he’s going to wreck Western Queens.

A sleeping activist giant has awoken in this borough, thanks to his homeless hotels, disingenuous neoliberalism masquerading as progressive policy, and his crass Tammany style corruption.


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glittering pinnacles

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Nothing I like better than a bleak post industrial landscape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Behind the scenes on this whole environmental cleanup thing, there’s a lot of arguing and derision. As you’d imagine, the Government people operate according to a series of byzantine rules and exceptions, as do the so called “PRP” or “Potentially Responsible Parties” who have admitted culpability, and responsibility for, cleaning up the historical mess they’ve created in Newtown Creek. The PRP’s are divided into two camps – one is a consortium of energy companies (National Grid, ExxonMobil, BP etc.) and the former copper refinery Phelps Dodge which have styled themselves as the “Newtown Creek Group” or NCG. The other is the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, which despite its name and municipal mission is actually the biggest modern polluter of the waterway itself. The DEP’s sewer plant in Greenpoint is the largest source of greenhouse gases which you’ll find in Brooklyn, accounting for more climate changing emissions than the Battery Tunnel, believe it or not.

NCG and DEP are both on the hook for paying to clean things up on the Newtown Creek, as the agreement they signed with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that defined them as PRP’s was essentially the environmental law equivalent of a plea bargain agreement. As you’d imagine, both sides are trying to point a finger at the other and trying to force them into paying a larger share of the cleanup bill.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The difference between DEP and NCG, of course, is that the latter are publicly traded corporate entities who can simply pass the cleanup costs on to their customer base. National Grid recently announced a rate hike to its customers in pursuance of this goal. DEP is funded by and is an agency of the City of New York, and is funded by water taxes. No elected official, especially the current Mayor of NYC, wants to announce that taxes are going up so DEP is fighting tooth and nail to appear as an innocent and aggrieved party despite the fact that they signed that “plea bargain” alongside the NCG admitting their culpability. DEP allows in excess of a billion gallons of untreated sewage, per annum, to enter the waterway. I wish I could give you an exact number, but that’s one of the things that everyone is arguing about. If it’s raining, at all, in NYC you’ve got (according to DEP) a 63% chance that their “CSO’s” or “combined sewer outfalls” are belching raw sewage directly into the water.

DEP has argued to the various community organizations that since “chemicals of concern,” as defined in the Superfund “CERCLA” regulations, aren’t being transported in this sewage flow that they’re not even sure why they’re part of the Superfund process. Notably, they don’t do this when EPA is in the room. Speaking as a member of a few of these community organizations, I’ve queried EPA about this, and pointed out that the sewage flow is carrying a literal shit ton of solute and floatable garbage along with it. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

2016 was a pretty disappointing year on the Newtown Creek.

The City DEP is doing everything it can to wiggle out of fixing their mess. Their solution to the billion plus gallons of sewage which carry oxygen eating bacteria into the water is to spend hundreds of millions on an aeration system, which will – in essence – act as an aquarium bubble wand for the sewage. If they get the level of dissolved oxygen in the sewage high enough, they can tell the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation that they’ve solved the problem. The fact that the aeration system will be driven by electric air pumps, which will consume energy and produce greenhouse gases? Well, they’re under an order to increase the dissolved oxygen content of the water. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection is the largest modern source of ongoing water pollution on the Newtown Creek

On the historical pollution side, NCG is talking about using different “solutions” for the various regions of the Creek, which boil down to “dredge” versus “dredge and cap” versus “cap only” scenarios for removing the sediment bed of “Black Mayonnaise” which sits 20-30 feet deep along the waterway. The Black Mayonnaise is a witches brew of petroleum byproducts, coal tar, and everything else that’s ever been deposited in the water. The top layers, which represent about the last fifty years or so, were deposited by the DEP’s sewers, but the stuff at the bottom is industrial waste and spilt products which were manufactured by and belonged to Standard Oil’s refineries, Brooklyn Union Gas’s Manufactured Gas Plant, and Phelps Dodge’s acid factory and copper refinery. ExxonMobil, BP, National Grid etc. are the modern incarnations or inheritors of the energy companies mentioned above. Phelps Dodge acts a bit like a monster hiding under some kid’s bed in a dark room, and maintains a low profile. The oil and gas people are very much present in the conversation, however.

“Dredge and cap” means that the black mayonnaise will be entirely scraped away all the way down to the actual bottom of Newtown Creek, and that a layer of clay and “rip rap” (rocks) will be laid down to seal the bottom off from the water column.” “Cap only” means that the clay and rip rap will be installed OVER the sediment bed, which is a far cheaper scenario. NCG seems to be leaning towards the latter scenario for the extant tributaries like LIC’s Dutch Kills (pictured above), Maspeth Creek, and the East Branch in Ridgewood. This solution is quite a bit cheaper and easier to enact than the dredging one, which is why they’re pushing it, while dressing the plan up as “shoreline reconstruction” and “environmental restoration” in the name of palatability to people like me and my pals at Newtown Creek Alliance.

As mentioned, not a great year on the Newtown Creek.

All sides are offering carrots. I’m fashioning sticks, for use in 2017.


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down slanting

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Here today and gone tomorrow, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator, as previously stated, needs a vacation.

Actually, it’s a change of scene I require. My daily rounds often take me to locations which are awe inspiring, or terrifying, but ultimately I’d like to see and record something different – just for a change of pace. Kittens? I just don’t know anymore. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the pundits opine, and I’d like to photograph something entirely absent of tugboats, industrial squalor, and sewer plants – just for a minute, mind you. Maybe a walk in the woods or something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that after this weekend’s Open House New York tour is concluded one will be free on the weekends again. I’m thinking about following the lead offered by Ratso and Joe Buck in the Midnight Cowboy movie and buying a random bus ticket at Port Authority and seeing where Greyhound might want to take me for a day trip.

Of course – knowing my luck, I’ll randomly end up in industrial Newark or Philadelphia, or some rust belt city in western New York. You can take the boy out of the superfund site, but…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it’s just ennui. Bah.

Winter is coming, and ultimately, Carthage must be destroyed.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 14, 2016 at 11:00 am

lurking place

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It’s all so exciting, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The funny thing, for me and perhaps for you, is that today and tomorrow’s posts aren’t the ones I originally intended to present. There are two perfectly fine posts in the unpublished folder which are completely written and formatted and ready to go, but for some reason I just didn’t want to release them into the wild this week. Really can’t tell you why, other than they continue a recent theme rattling on about “the looming infrastructure crisis due to real estate development” which has been explored in recent weeks – so instead – a few pix from a recent walk around LIC. I need a vacation, I really do.

That’s an “at grade” crossing of Borden Avenue which the Long Island Railroad has been using since the 1870’s pictured above. There are just a few of these “at grade” interactions between automotive traffic and rail in NYC, and the Queens side of Newtown Creek is where you can find several of them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cupola of LIC’s sapphire megalith was just peeking out over a couple of squamous warehouse buildings on Borden Avenue, a bit further to the east. Despite the unlikely presence of some inhuman “thing” up there, which greedily stares down upon the world of men with a three lobed burning eye, I often utilize the megalith as a navigation tool while moving through some of the distaff areas surrounding the Newtown Creek.

You can easily see this building from as far away as Staten Island. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throwing my feet around in the area I have christened as “the empty corridor” beneath the Long Island Expressway, which is observationally and historically a fine choice for illegal dumping, this somewhat adolescent cat greeted me recently. One of the interesting things I’ve been noticing of late is that site managers all over the Creek are setting up shelters for the ferals and encouraging them to hang around.

I’ve inquired with a few people on this subject and the reasoning behind the effort boils down to that hiring an exterminator to control rodents is quite expensive, and encouraging a “staff” of onsite 24 hour exterminators to take up residence isn’t. Same logic that farmers use, actually.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 13, 2016 at 11:01 am

chemical paraphernalia 

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Twirling, always twirling, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here amongst the blessed rolling hills of that tower of municipal Babel called Astoria, a humble narrator has been noticing a scent familiar in recent weeks. Whenever one approached the street corner along Broadway between Steinway Street and Woodside Avenue, the scent of raw sewage occurred. Now – given the amount of time I’ve spent over the years describing my adventures along the Newtown Creek (and within a few DEP facilities that govern the sewer system) I’m just going to ask you to trust me when I say that I know EXACTLY what raw sewage smells like. As is my habit, whilst hoping and praying that I’m not the only person in the neighborhood who give one single “‘eff” about the place, I waited for a couple of weeks before calling 311, hoping that someone else would do it.

Meh. If you smell something, say something.

Last week, DEP responded within an astounding 90 minutes of my 311 call to report the smell conditions. I didn’t even have to invoke the “powers that be” of Western Queens, this time, for the system to expeditiously take care of it.

As a frequent and public critic of DEP, I felt compelled to congratulate the agency’s management, which I personally offered to Deputy Commissioner Eric Landau whom I ran into during an unrelated meeting in Greenpoint on the same day that the photo above was captured. Well done, DEP.

The truck pictured has a crane like rig installed, which in turn has a claw bucket attached to the end of its line. The fellow driving the truck opened the access (or manhole) cover on the corner and removed a blockage in the pipes beneath the street. He pulled out what seemed like a significant amount of garbage from down below which was loaded into the bin on the back of the truck. Good show, DEP, and the smell of raw sewage is once gain confined to the faraway Newtown Creek, rather than Astoria’s Broadway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It being preferable that environmental or existential realities be “somebody else’s problem” is the New York City way, after all. All this crap that we all deal with is ultimately our own common fault, and since we got no one else to blame, that means that we don’t want to discuss it. That’s also the New York City way.

I always tell people that despite the fact that I’m involved with multiple environmentally oriented groups, I’m not an environmentalist, but that I know a few and that they are the “real thing.” They’re earth loving nature hippies, sandal wearing berry eaters, and bicycle riding dreamers who don’t understand the harsh realities of the actual tangible universe which the rest of us live in – but may the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself continue to shine beneficently of them, for despite my chides – they can actually get things done and are building a cleaner and healthier future. I’m not an environmentalist, but how can you not aspire to be one?

They are also the people you can count on to call 311 if and when the poop hits the fan, or when the corner sewer grate is exhaling rather than inhaling as it’s designed to do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The unwillingness most of my neighbors evince towards getting involved with, and helping to guide the policies of, our government is something I just don’t understand. Men and women of conscience are everywhere you look in NYC, yet it’s also the NYC way to walk past a burning trash fire and say “somebody else’s problem.” People often ask me “what’s the matter with you, you don’t have enough of your own problems?” in regards to my chiding and constant admonitions regarding “getting involved.” My motivation is selfish, as I may need some help from the cops or whomever, and I believe that if they know me, that help might be a bit more profound in nature. Also, I’m not a fan of sewage smells wafting up out of the century old underground pipes which carry the flow.

Maybe I’m just a cheapskate, and want to know how the third of my household income seized by the government in every paycheck is being spent. Value for money? Expensive boondoggle lining the pockets of political favorites? Don’t you want to know what your money is doing, and how our common investments and properties are being managed? Don’t you want to make sure that De Blasio doesn’t intend to put a homeless shelter on your block?

Why not? 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

suddenly lost

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Getting high in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one of the environmental projects underwritten by GCEF (the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund) opened to the public at Brooklyn’s 520 Kingsland Avenue, alongside that loathsome exemplar of municipal neglect known as the Newtown Creek. In this case, the project is a green roof installed on top of a movie studio, specifically one of the production facilities owned and operated by the Broadway Stages company which is partially housed in a series of formerly industrial locations around Greenpoint and Long Island City. Broadway Stages has been buying up a LOT of property along the Creek in recent years.

Well, I guess the location is still industrial, it’s just a different kind of industry – entertainment rather than petrochemical. At any rate, 520 Kingsland Avenue is a few stories above the flood plain and whilst up there and on site, I got busy with the camera. You’ve seen this point of view before, incidentally – in a 2016 post where I told you about Brooklyn’s invisible flame back in June.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can’t really talk about it quite yet, but let’s just say I’ll be able to take you up there in a couple of weeks on a couple of free tours. I’ll supply the link as soon as it’s public. The green roof at 520 Kingsland was designed with butterflies, of all things, in mind. Saying that it’s a pretty interesting space with neat little walkways weaving through plantings, and there are incredible views of the surrounding industrial zone to check out.

That’s part of Metro Fuel’s truck fleet in the shot above, for the curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The real stunners, amongst the many points of view available from 520 Kingsland Avenue, are the ones in which the shining city of Manhattan provides the backdrop. This sort of urban pornography is possible due to two reasons: one is that the Greenpoint Landing Project is just kicking into gear, so the POV isn’t blocked by forty story residential palaces yet; the other is that the surrounding area is all 19th century landfill which is both low lying and quite flat.

This POV is looking due west from the 520 Kingsland Avenue rooftop, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Northwest POV, gazing across the lugubrious Newtown Creek in the direction of Long Island City’s Hunters Point section.

In the distance, you’ll notice the red and white banded smokestacks of the “Big Allis” power plant at 36th avenue in the Ravenswood section. The Citi building megalith, that sapphire dagger jammed in the heart of the place at Jackson Avenue’s intersection with Thomson Avenue, used to be the only large scale building in the area.

 

As an aside, a few years ago some group of urban planners/art fucks from Pratt University proposed Big Allis’s red and white stripes to me as a branding element for the western Queens waterfront. I had to inform them how we residents regarded the presence of an enormous power plant operating along our waterfront that serves Manhattan’s needs, and that it wasn’t exactly a popular symbol, locally speaking.

 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The singularity of the Citi megalith has, of course, changed. The pace of real estate development in the last few years has been frenetic in LIC, as evinced in the shots above and below. Sometimes, in order to really take it all in, you need to leave Queens entirely – just to gain some perspective.

Funnily enough, this is what I usually say about Manhattan – the best part of “the City” is being outside of it and witnessing the shield wall of buildings from without. An inhuman scale landscape like Manhattan’s can’t be properly observed while you’re within the oppressive shadows of its canyon walls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That white truss structure at center of the shot is the Long Island Expressway, which rises over Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary from its beginnings at the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Dutch Kills intersects with the main body of Newtown Creek about 3/4 of a mile back from the East River, and heads inland for the better part of a mile. The LIE traffic up on that truss bridge is flowing 106 feet over the water. The far right hand side of the shot above shows the construction going on at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Queens Plaza, on the former West Chemicals Company site. Moving left, the rest of the construction is occurring along Jackson Avenue at Purves, Dutch Kills Street, and so on.

All of it is high end residential, incidentally, except for that squamous curvy faced one directly to the left of the orange one. That’s an office building which the NYC Dept. of Health has based itself in nearby Queens Plaza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my little adages, which I gleefully relate on my walking tours of the area, is a facet of NYS law – it dictates that if you were about to buy a home which is known to be “haunted by a ghost” by the current owner and or the surrounding community – the haunting needs to be disclosed before closing the sales contract.

If you’re buying a property that used to be a chemical factory, or a copper refinery, or some other heavy industrial pursuit that rendered the site a “brownfield” – you are under no obligation to disclose the environmental history to a buyer, however.

When you meet newer residents of LIC’s Tower Town or Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and mention a nearby Federal Superfund site defined as “Newtown Creek” – they say “What’s that?”

Upcoming tours and events:


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

furtive signs

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Triffids at Newtown Creek?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, I was enacting my usual pilgrimage back from Greenpoint to Astoria and since it was a nice day I decided to take the long way home and visit Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary as it had been a good 72 hours since the last time I was there. That’s the Queens Midtown Expressway truss bridge of the larger Long Island Expressway highway complex at its highest altitude, some 106 feet over the water.

In truth, the Dutch Kills route is actually a bit of a shortcut for me, as the route is a good number of blocks shorter than taking the Greenpoint Avenue pathway eastwards through Blissville and Sunnyside due to the somewhat triangular relationship between Northern Blvd. and GP avenue. I like to cut down 27th street from Borden Avenue, in order to access Skillman Avenue, which runs roughly parallel to Northern Blvd. until 39th street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was on 27th street, right in front of what was once known as Irving Subway Grate, that I spotted this bizarre plant. One would like to imagine two distinct scenarios to describe it – one involving extraterrestrial spores settling down upon LIC and spawning an alien vegetable, the other is that the mutagenic chemicals swirling around in the waters of Dutch Kills have perverted and created a new and debased form of life.

It’s probably something that a botanist would instantly recognize, but please – allow me my little fantasies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These seed pods, or perhaps fruit, were heavily armored. They were fairly large, at about 3-5 inches in length.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Were they not shaped like the pincers of an insect, or crab, I would have produced my trusty pocket knife and cut one open to reveal what was inside. Instead, I was fearful that I might get pinched by some autonomic reaction so I stayed at a safe distance. What if they were man eating Triffids in some juvenile form?

You can’t be too careful around Newtown Creek. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What were they? Only that impossible thing, which cannot possibly be real, hiding in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of Long Island City that stares down upon the world of men through its three lobed burning eye, can know for sure.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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