The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘English Kills’ Category

hapless youth

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English Kills cat, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m taking a short break this week, and offering single images of the Internet’s favorite critter. These are all ferals, encountered in the nooks and crannies of NYC which I wander through. Have a great Thanksgiving.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

tradition emphasizes

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Creek week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised in yesterday’s post, a different perspective on the Creek is offered today. For the last few days, we’ve been on the DEP property in Greenpoint, and a birds eye perpective on DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – was offered. In today’s post, the POV is from onboard a NY Water Taxi, and it’s the English Kills Tributary of the larger Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, as seen from the turning basin adjoining it, looking east towards Bushwick and East Williamsburg. I call this spot DUMABO – Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. In colonial times, this was traditionally the demarcation point between fresh and brackish water on the Creek, but back then English Kills was fed by dozens of upland streams and springs. The water bubbling up out of the earth up on the hills of Ridgewood and Bushwick are part of what drew the Germans out here, and a lot of them – like the Ulmers – were involved in the beer business.

The beer guys, who do the holy work of delivering sacrament to bars and bodegas, are still in the area but there’s mainly micro brew hipster stuff going on these days and it’s fed by the DEP’s croton water system rather than ground water. The big guys like Budweiser – pictured above – ship their product in from elsewhere. There’s a pretty big beer distributor nearby on Grand Street, whose warehouse backs up on English Kills, and that Bud Light truck is likely heading there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also on Brooklyn’s Grand Street is the former Charles J. King recycling company, which seems to have recently changed ownership. Luckily, the new owners continue to exploit their maritime bulkheads to ship their product out of the area, rather than truck it out. The sections of Brooklyn and Queens surrounding the eastern sector of the Newtown Creek have some of the highest concentrations of heavy truck traffic in the entire City of New York.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the NYC DOT’s Grand Street swing bridge in the shot above, a 1909 relic of the days when Tammany Hall came to Newtown Creek shortly after the consolidation of the City of Greater New York in 1898. It’s the titular ornamentation signifying the positioning of the currently undefended legal border of Brooklyn and Queens. On the Queens side of the bridge, Grand Street becomes Grand Avenue, which travels through Maspeth and several other communities. Despite a few interruptions in its path introduced by Robert Moses, Grand Avenue eventually enters Astoria and becomes 30th avenue which heads all the way down to the East River near Halletts Cove.

Of course – on the Brooklyn side – Grand Street more or less connects to the East River in Williamsburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn side concrete company pictured above, called Empire Transit Mix, is sited on what was once called Furman Island. There used to be two islands found in the neighborhood of Maspeth Avenue, with the smaller one known as Mussel Island. Mussel was dredged away in the WW1 era, and its spoils were used to connect Furman Island to Brooklyn. This netted Brooklyn a bit of additional land mass and supposedly increased its legislative delegations by one seat.

Furman Island is the former home of Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Martin Kalbfleisch’s Acid and Chemical works, and Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal dock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The area where the Newtown Creek widens out is referred to as “the Turning Basin” and it’s where you’ll find the National Grid company’s LNG facility, which sits on a former Manufactured Gas Plant which was operated by the Brooklyn Union Gas Company. There’s a lake of coal tar under the National Grid property, and a wall of the stuff clinging to their property in the water.

As a note, I have made multiple attempts to formally visit the National Grid site, using institutional means. Polity and smarmy conviviality have been met with a brick wall of denial of entry. Every attempt to learn what goes on there has been met with obfuscation and a cry of “Homeland Security.” It’s a “no cameras” zone, National Grid says. It’s a “Marsec 1” zone, National Grid says.

It’s visible from above, via the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and from the water, and from the street sides – say I. I’ve got long zoom lenses, as well. I’ve also got access to documentation on the place via the environmental review process, State DEC oversight, and the Superfund investigations.

One wonders what they’re hiding back in there. I’ll find out over the course of time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, at the western end of the turning basin, you’ll find the 1939 span and the replacement span which the State DOT is currently working on.

These shots were captured just last week while onboard a pair of sold out Open House NY tours of the Newtown Creek which I conducted with my colleague T. Willis Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance. My practice on these tours is to narrate the excursion – discussing the past – in from the East River to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, then hand the microphone over to Willis – who discusses the future.

While he’s talking, one grabs the camera and gets busy.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. 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.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

abnormal gaps

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Cool cars, Bushwick East Williamsburg edition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was happily scuttling along recently, on his way to conduct a tour of the “Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,” when a charming old rust bucket was encountered on Grand Street not too far from the centuried swing bridge named for it. Unlike other “cool cars,” described at this – your Newtown Pentacle – I’m unable to describe make, model, year, or engine type as frankly – there wasn’t enough left of the thing to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can tell you that it was a short bus, and that it still had an engine. It was missing a radiator and all the other parts which would attach around the engine, including the front end’s entire outer body.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were four tires on the thing, so that’s something. Additionally, inside the relatively intact passenger cabin, there seemed to be quite a few bits and bobs being stored. Looks like a handyman special to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just on the other side of the Newtown Creek in Maspeth – where Grand Street transmogrifies into Grand Avenue upon leaving Brooklyn and entering Queens – the short bus’s owner could probably find all the help he or she needs with the project at the MTA’s Grand Avenue depot.

A 600,000 square foot facility that’s four stories tall, the Grand Avenue depot can store 200 city buses at one time just on the first floor. It’s the second floor that would come in handy for the short bus’s owner, as one of the 27 maintenance bays up there would be just the thing to getting this “cool car” up and running again.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. –
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

heavy boots

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Yeah, Happy Earth Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another Earth Day rolls around, wherein large numbers of happy little sophists will gather together in Manhattan Parks and congratulate themselves for separating their trash into “recycling” and “garbage” parcels. They will pat each other on the back, and claim that NYC is the “greenest” and most “resilient” of American cities. You won’t see any of them visiting LIC, or Greenpoint, Maspeth, or Bushwick, or Ridgewood. They won’t think about what happens after they flush their toilets, either.

Few, if any, will find themselves having arrived at the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t see the black waters of Newtown Creek’s tributary Maspeth Creek, or smell the battery acid odor of raw sewage as it is entering the waterway. They won’t comment on the illegal dumping, or the true nature and environmental impact of the recycling industry. Greater good, they would say, were they to leave Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Few will visit Dutch Kills at low tide, over in LIC. If they did, they would be forced to rationalize the rotten egg smell as being produced by anaerobic microbes. They wouldn’t puzzle over the neon colors of this tributary of Newtown Creek, whose mouth is .75 of a mile from the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t wander through the borderlands of Brooklyn and Queens to Ridgewood, and witness what the recycling process actually looks and smells like. They won’t worry about what they are breathing either.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Manhattan people like to feel as if they’re doing something to help the environment, and will do so in front of television cameras. They will make a show of discussing the banning of plastic grocery bags, or demand that NYC begins to compost its organics. They won’t realize that this composting has to be done somewhere within throwing distance of their Borough, and that it will carried by truck to some central receiving facility where it will be collected and stored whilst awaiting processing. They don’t know that this area will be somewhere along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They certainly won’t visit the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch line, and see the hundreds of filled cargo boxes that compose the “garbage train.” They won’t care that the concentrating point of roughly 30-40% of NYC’s garbage is found on the corner of Varick Street and Johnson Avenue, nor about the thousands of trucks which descend upon it daily.

So – Happy Earth Day, from Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

greatest suddenness

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Vas doin on English Kills, boychik, mit the bubbles?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUMABO. Down Under the Metropolitan Bridge Onramp, is a spot that bisects the pathway of the so called “industrial Canals of Brooklyn” or English Kills. The darkest thicket of the troubled Newtown Creek, English Kills is largely isolated from casual perusal by the electorate by a continuous shield wall of industrial buildings, which means that what happens on the water is usually commented on by an unlucky few such as myself. The engineered path that the water flows through follows the Brooklyn street grid, which creates a series of right angle turns that impede the tidal actions of the East River which is some 3 miles from here.

This adherence to the street grid, and the hydrological issues it introduces, has caused huge accretions of the so called “Black Mayonnaise” sediments to agglutinate. This sedimentation, along with the summer heat, causes the water to be “anoxic,” meaning that it often carries little or no dissolved oxygen. This kills off any aquatic life that may have wandered back here, and promulgates the colonies of sewage bacteria in the water whose aromatic exhalations remind one of rotting chicken eggs.

The sewage bacteria is provided by the many CSO’s (Combined Sewer Outfalls) found along the waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To combat these anoxic conditions, the ever reliable NYC DEP (in concert with the state DEC) have installed an aeration system. Basically a giant pipe through which pressurized air is pumped, the thing operates in the same manner as a bubble wand on your aquarium fish tank. Disturbing the surface allows atmospheric gases like oxygen to become dissolved in the water. The DEP building you’ll notice on Metropolitan Avenue in East Williamsburg that adjoins the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge contains the air compressors.

It all sounds rather logical, as the efforts of engineers often do. Problem is that the sewage bacteria conditions are being caused by the Combined Sewer Outfalls on English Kills, which the DEP engineers are not focusing on. It’s sort of like shitting in a fish tank every day, and attaching more and more aerating bubble wands to combat the conditions being caused, without doing anything about… y’know, not shitting in your aquarium.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the problem – my pals over at Riverkeeper have voiced MAJOR concerns about this system, and cite a study by M. Elias Dueker which shows that bacterial fauna from English Kills are provided with an opportunity to enter the air via this system. A “Culturable Bacterial Aerosol” as they describe it, is allowed purchase into the atmosphere.

Said organisms can then find a home on any friendly terrestrial surface.

In effect, these bubbles provide a ladder for the worst pathogens in the Newtown creek watershed an opportunity to get up and out of the water. Keeping this sort of bacteria away from the general populace is sort of the mission of the DEP, btw.

from riverkeeper.org

Riverkeeper raised concerns when the city proposed aerating the rest of the creek last spring and asked the DEP to test for pathogens and sewage associated bacteria in the air, which they did not agree to do. Aeration creates bubbles on the water’s surface and is a Band Aid solution to the underlying serious problem of combined sewage overflows. Low oxygen conditions in the creek occur due to sewage contamination and although aeration increases the oxygen level in the water, it does not reduce the amount of sewage or sewage associated bacteria that are dumped into the creek. Riverkeeper has argued that aeration is an ineffective way of addressing the pollution problem and the recent study suggests that it may also negatively impact local air-quality.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Worse still, the aeration system performs its job quite well. Dissolved oxygen levels in English Kills are higher than they used to be. Accordingly, the DEP is planning on expanding the system from English Kills all the way to the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, more than a mile away.

The pipes are planned to follow the contour of the Queens coastline, of course, because you wouldn’t be able to get away with doing it on the Brooklyn side. This puts Maspeth, and parts of Sunnyside and Blissville, in the path of the pestilent wind which would rise from the loathsome Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

perilous experiences

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Shut your trap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

2012 and 2013 seem to have been years wherein I spent more time in Greenpoint than I did in Queens, which is something that great efforts  in the name of correction have been made in 2014. Lost in soliloquy and pondering the meaning of itself, North Brooklyn has plenty of folks watching over it, while Queens screams for attention and there seems to be only me paying it any mind. Spotted on Steinway Street in Astoria, this yellow horse offers vainglorious thrills, although it is a shadow of what is possible in the world of equestrian statuary.

I do not think that the apogee of horse sculptures will offer rides for 50 cents, however.

from wikipedia

The Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, part of the Genghis Khan Statue Complex is a 40 metre (131 ft 3 in) tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, on the bank of the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog (54 km (33.55 mi) east of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar), where according to legend, he found a golden whip. The statue is symbolically pointed east towards his birthplace.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Newtown Road in Astoria at its intersection with 41st street, one notices a rare artifact of an earlier age.

An uninterrupted block of Matthews Model Flats ends with a wrap around corner that hosts a commercial shop on the first floor. My network of Croatian informants tell me that they remember nothing about the storefront ever being anything other than what it is now, an electrician’s location, and one hopes that some Astorian reading this post can help fill the rest of us in on the past history of the spot.

from mas.org

The Mathews Model Flats were built by speculative developer Gustave X. Mathews and designed by Louis Allmendinger in the early part of the 20th Century. Considered to be some of the most innovative housing in the city, these “new law” tenements were designed with more space and better sanitation than their overcrowded 19th Century counterparts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally- a shot from Brooklyn’s Bushwick, or East Wiiliamsburg as the Real Estate people call it.

This is the dead bang end of Newtown Creek – actually, its tributary English Kills.

More and more of the people I encounter from this neighborhood are coming down here, seeking vicarious thrills and “disaster tourism.” Some are actually dragging boats and kayaks through the sediments to get into the water.

Lords and Ladies… English Kills is an open sewer, and one of the most polluted spots in New York City if not the planet. I know a whole lot about what’s going on back here and try to limit my exposure to this spot down to 3 or 4 times a year. There’s a reason that the Feds are going to spend hundreds of millions to clean things up. If you’re going to insist on boating in Newtown Creek, please launch from someplace safer. Please?

from habitatmap.org

People using the creek for recreational purposes such as swimming and boating may come into direct contact with chemical contaminants and harmful biological organisms. People may come in contact with contaminants present in the shallow creek sediments while entering or exiting the creek during recreational activities.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There are three Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Sunday, June 21st, America’s Workshop
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Saturday, June 28th, The Poison Cauldron
With Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, June 29th, The Insalubrious Valley
With Brooklyn Brainery, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday -the 26th of May- the Working Harbor Committee is producing and offering a boat tour of the Newtown Creek for any interested parties to attend. A special emphasis on the waterway’s storied history and maritime legacy will be made.

I’m going to be doing the history part, speaking in my capacity as the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and am tasked with highlighting the various points of interest encountered along the route. Anticipated to be some three hours in length, this boat tour will be delving some three miles inland, proceeding to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crossing English Kills in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maritime History of Newtown Creek is one largely forgotten in these decadent times, but even now an odd tugboat and barge might be spied making their way down the waterway on any given day. Property owners were considered to have been blessed by some of the finest industrial bulkheads in the world a mere century ago, yet many of the businesses based along the Creek today ignore this invaluable resource, allowing their waterfront property to decay and decline.

Nevertheless, a staggering amount of maritime traffic is still observed here, and towing companies such as Reinauer, K-Sea, DonJon, and Poling and Cutler are regular visitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast operations will be witnessed by those onboard, many of which are involved in the scrap metal and recyclables trade. Responsible for an enormous amount of cross harbor shipping, companies such as SimsMetal are heavily reliant on the maritime trades for their economic success.

Not all that long ago, Newtown Creek carried a greater tonnage of cargo than the entire Mississippi River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An active and thriving industrial zone in the center of New York City, from the water one can truly grasp the sheer scale of Newtown Creek’s busy waterfront. Normally hidden by high fences and obscured by street facing structures, the intensity of the Newtown Creek is laid bare before the admiring gaze of first time visitor and veteran urban explorer alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A tributary of the estuarine East River, Newtown Creek extends some 3.8 miles from its junction with the more familiar waterway, and provides demarcation for the currently undefended border of much of Brooklyn and Queens. Named to the Federal Superfund list, the Creek suffers from a history of environmental degradation and municipal neglect.

An era of great change is upon the Newtown Creek, and this trip will be one of your last chances to see it in its current form.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will see four moveable bridges, and this year will be your last chance to see the static Kosciuszko Bridge as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin as early as the Fall of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along it’s banks, great fortunes have risen.

Amongst others- Peter Cooper (BO Railroad, Canton Iron, and Cooper Union), Charles Pratt (Astral Oil, and Pratt University), and ultimately John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil)– all grew richer than the dreams of avarice in this place. Alongside them, the darkest mills of the industrial revolution- rendering plants, yeast distilleries, bone blackers, and acid factories provided tens of thousands of jobs to the immigrant populations of Brooklyn and Queens. Today- National Grid, BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, and a host of other multinational companies still maintain an enormous investment in this valuable industrial canal.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

On May 26th, Mitch shares his unique point of view and deep understanding of the past, present and future conditions of the Newtown Creek as the narrator and expedition leader for this years’ Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

Our NY Water Taxi leaves from South Street Seaport at 10 a.m. (sharp) for a three hour tour of the Newtown Creek. From the East River we’ll move into the Newtown Creek where we’ll explore explore vast amounts of maritime infrastructure, see many movable bridges and discover the very heart of the Hidden Harbor.

Limited seating available, get your tickets today.

Tickets $59, trip leaves Pier 17 at South Street Seaport at 10a.m. sharp.

We will be traveling in a comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. There will be refreshments and snacks available for purchase at the bar.

Other upcoming tours:

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

for a full listing and schedule of tours and events, click here

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