The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Dutch Kills’ Category

quainter levels

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It’s Anosmia Awareness Day, in these United States and the United Kingdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the curious – Anosmia is a loss of the sense of smell, which is apparently quite debilitating. One of my old buddies has always wondered about what smell “blindness” is called, and he’s been using “smeaf” for many years so I’m glad to report that there is – in fact – an actual term for it. Seriously though, imagine not being to taste your food or discern a gas leak or smoke – Anosmia is no joke and as serious as blindness or deafness. Of course, given the amount of time I spend at a certain superfund site which defines the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, Anosmia might be something of a boon. The loss of sensory data I’m currently experiencing is actually centered around touch, and a general numbness seems to be spreading across my skinvelope and ballooning out between my ears.

Pictured above is the fabulous Borden Avenue Bridge, a retractile wonder that the children of Queens would marvel at, would they elect to visit the Dutch Kills Tributary of the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Retractile means, incidentally, that the movable section of the roadway retreats away from its foundational piers, opening a spot for maritime traffic to pass through. In the shot above, you can see the spot which accepts the retractile section. There’s locomotive style rails running across the spot, which carry the truss. Famously, there’s only two retractile bridges in NYC, with the other one (which is decidedly smaller in scale and older in design) spanning the Gowanus Canal at Caroll Street. I guess that today is vocabulary day, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The section of the Long Island Expressway seen above is referred to as the Queens Midtown Expressway by officialdom, and it’s some 106 feet up from the street to its road deck. It opened in 1939, and feeds it’s traffic flow into the nearby Queens Midtown Tunnel (also 1939) leading to Manhattan. A conceit often I’ve often used at spots like this, all around NYC, is to call this “The House of Moses” for NYC’s master builder Robert Moses. The tunnel and QME weren’t projects he started, but they are projects that Moses bullied his way into and took over – as a note. Robert Caro didn’t call Moses the “Power Broker” just to be snarky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the reasons that I hate all of you equally is exemplified by this all too common site at the littoral edge of Dutch Kills. I’m the guy who wads up personally produced garbage in his pockets and carries it until encountering a proper trash receptacle, so realize that this is a pet peeve of mine – but what the hell is wrong with all of you? You don’t just discard things like cups and food wrappers or plastic bags out of your car window as you move along, do you? Quite obviously, many do. I see this every where I go in NY harbor.

How about you? Shame on all of us for this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There seems to be some signs of life at this long vacant property along Dutch Kills – the former Irving Iron Works factory. Part of their site has had a cinder block wall erected. Notice that it was built from another installation of blocks which had been literally graffiti’d and that now it’s just a hodge podge of random colors. That’s kind of cool actually.

I’ll keep an eye out. 


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baffling lack

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It’s Setsubun Day, in the nation of Japan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, the 21st of January was a pretty foggy day, which is something I consider pretty. One made it a point of visiting several distaff locations around Long Island City to capture the scene. The shot above is something that all of you reading this will be able to personally enjoy sometime in the very near future, when the Smiling Hogshead Ranch expands its operations up to the abandoned trackway of the Montauk Cutoff.

The photo above depicts the most photogenic of NYC’s subway lines – the IRT Flushing, or 7 line – exiting the elevated tracks of the Court Square Station and traveling on its way to Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent a bit of time up on the tracks, as I ran into an old friend while making my way up there and we spent some time catching up while I waved the camera around. The cutoff is brutally bare during the winter months, as all of the self seeded vegetation surrounding it is deep in hibernation. During the warmer months, it’s positively verdant up here – an island of green amidst the concrete devastations of Western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Disturbingly, the Queens Cobbler seems to have visited the Cutoff recently, leaving behind one of the totemic “single shoes” signaling that he or she was here. The “Queens Cobbler” is the name I’ve assigned to a likely serial killer who claims human lives all around the Newtown Creek watershed, leaving behind a single shoe to announce that their latest hunt has been successful.

Someday, the NYPD will happen upon a hidden warehouse room in LIC or Maspeth filled with footwear and gore, and on that day – the metaphorical and literal “other shoe” will truly fall. Back next week with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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modern matters

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It’s Street Children’s Day, in the Republic of Austria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek which abruptly turns north off the main channel three quarters of a mile east of the East River, is entirely contained within Long Island City. It’s crossed by five bridges – the LIRR bridges DB Cabin and Cabin M, the Borden Avenue Bridge, the Queens Midtown Expressway truss, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Dutch Kills, like all of Newtown Creek’s tributaries and the main channel itself, is lined with a toxic sediment referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.” This sediment is composed of coal tar, petroleum and refining byproducts, industrial waste of various provence and typology, as well as human excrement deposited by NYC’s open sewers.

At its northern terminus, Dutch Kills is across the street from a CUNY college and several charter schools serving high school and junior high school aged kids. One of the most significant build outs in recent real estate history is happening less than a quarter mile from that spot, along LIC’s Jackson Avenue in an area referred to as “Court Square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to a non functioning railroad swing bridge at Dutch Kill’s junction with Newtown Creek’s main channel, there is absolutely zero maritime industrial activity along the tributary. The bulkheads along its reach generally date back about a century, to a massive “improvement” conducted around the time of the First World War which saw the marshes and swamps it fed drained and both the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon Industrial Terminal constructed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets surrounding Dutch Kills offer fleeting glimpses of the waterway, and many of them are not City streets at all but “railroad access roads” owned by the MTA. You can almost always smell the waterway before you can see it, and whereas I can tell you a few spots to access the water, none of these are “legal” and all involve trespass of private or government property. You can legally observe it from the Borden Avenue or Hunters Point Avenue bridges, however.

At it’s terminus – or “turning basin,” there are two abandoned oil barges rusting and rotting away into the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Illegal dumping, the native art form of the Borough of Queens, is practiced hereabouts with relish and abandon. The DSNY garbage bin in the shot above appeared on 29th street back in November, and I’ve been watching it steadily fill up and overflow. DSNY doesn’t seem to remember where they put it, as I haven’t seen it empty since the day it arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amidst the sheens of oil and grease you’ll observe on Dutch Kills, which are both historic and newly spawned, there are what the NYC DEP would describe as “floatables.” That’s government code for garbage that’s either been flushed or has been swept into the sewer grates on every street corner in NYC. In the case of Dutch Kills, the “sewer shed” that feeds these floatables into it extends all the way to East Elmhurst and Woodside to the east, Sunnyside and Astoria to the north, and the rapidly growing Long Island City which Dutch Kills is a part of.

The sewer plant that handles this burgeoning area was opened in 1931, and Fiorello LaGuardia cut the ribbon to open it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting tomorrow, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could really use some Queensican bodies and voices in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evinced by the corpse pictured above, life has actually begun to recolonize this waterway in recent years. The presence of higher mammals hereabouts speaks to an ecosystem that is beginning to recover from centuries of industrial and municipal abuse. Of course, nothing is going to save a raccoon from getting ground into hamburger by the wheels of a semi truck.

At Newtown Creek Alliance, we’ve been cataloging and observing for a while now. There’s more than seventy individual species of birds for instance – including Great Blue Herons and Ospreys – living along the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Their presence speaks to a growing population of prey animals (fish) present in the water column, and to a broader environmental recovery happening along this industrial waterway at the literal center of NYC.


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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

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