The Newtown Pentacle

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insidious outrages

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Wednesday’s are seldom fun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been a pretty busy couple of weeks for a humble narrator, which has seen me visiting several spots scattered around the Newtown Creek. Last week, Newtown Creek Alliance offered a lecture by NYS DEC’s Randy Austin titled “Oil Spills 101” to the public at our 520 Kingsland Avenue HQ. Well attended, the lecture is nevertheless something which I’ve experienced multiple times, so after helping out with setup and introductions, I went upstairs to the Kingsland Green Roof and set up the camera for landscape action. Unlike the failed attempt at such an endeavor described last week, this time I remembered to click all the right buttons and followed my checklist exactly.

See? I’m smart, not dumb, smart. Not like people say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, which presents here at Newtown Pentacle as a rather small image in the vertical sense, is actually a MASSIVE panorama image whose resolution would easily accommodate the pixel count needed for a five foot long print. Click through to flickr and check out the “all sizes” tab if you’re interested. I’d mention that you’d likely not want to do that if you’re on your phone right now. It’s a GIANT image.

Of late, the camera technique I’m using for panorama shots involves turning the tripod mounted camera on its side, in “portrait mode,” and then rotating the leveled tripod head around about five degrees for every exposure. The one above is composited from around thirteen individual shots stitched together. The reason for this, and why I’ve started doing pano shots this way, is that any lens distortion is usually more pronounced at the edges of the frame, and the “squarest” section of any lens is at center. I was using an ND ten stop filter on my lens as well, which means that the shot above represents about five minutes of actual elapsed time, since the ND filter allows me to do longish exposures in full daylight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A more conventional shot is above, looking over the DEP’s Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment plant property towards Greenpoint’s St. Anthony’s and the lower Manhattan skyline beyond.

Also, regarding the ludicrous plethora of ads which WordPress has been inserting into the blog – and of late into the body copy – is a state of affairs which is currently out of my control to stop. In June, I’m going to start making a few changes once the site officially turns ten years old, and one of them will involve eradicating as much of that junk as possible.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

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Old man shakes fist at cloud.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The time of the year which one refers to as “meetings season” is upon me. The good news is that laziness and inertia are cancelled out by “have to,” and the bad news is that I have to attend a bunch of meetings. The meetings mostly revolve around – you guessed it – Newtown Creek. Just last night, I was over in Greenpoint at a CAG (Superfund Community Advisory Group) meeting with several layers of officialdom – City, State, Federal. The EPA discussed part of their technical process, called “modeling”.” As described; they collect multiple lines of evidence regarding the “yuck” found in the water, assigning categories to the contaminants, and determine its nature, transport mechanisms, and risks. EPA has all sorts of algorithmic formulae through which the raw data is processed, and the modeling phase of their operation involves converting an abundance of observation into an action plan which will guide the actual physical removal or abeyance of continuing transport for the contaminants of concern found in the waterway.

If you think that paragraph sounded boring, you should attend one of the CAG meetings yourself. The paragraph above is Hemingway compared to the actual presentations, many of which are frankly “above my head,” as math is involved. I’m an arithmetics idiot, literally. On my SAT’s back in high school, I got ten points under a perfect score on the language side, and ten points higher than signing my name correctly on the math side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After EPA finished up their presentation, a combined team from NYS’s DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) and DOH (Department of Health) spoke to the CAG group about the many, many sites which are under some sort of environmental enforcement decree along the Newtown Creek. A lot of attention was paid to the Queens side in particular. Essentially, you couldn’t throw a stone between the Pulaski Bridge and Maspeth Creek without it landing on or close to a DEC administered site. LIRR’s Arch Street yard, a certain spot nearby the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, the Buckeye Pipeline, the Qantas resources and the Pratt sites in Blissville, the massive former Phelps Dodge properties in Maspeth, the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the National Grid site, the Morgan Oil Terminal site, and the Manhattan Polybag site were all discussed. There was even an upland property which at didn’t know existed, the Equity Manufactured Gas site. I had no idea about that one.

The DEC guy had a bit of fun with me, saying “See, you don’t know everything.” A roomful of regulators whom I’ve been tormenting as the “walking Newtown Creek encyclopedia” for years all laughed at that one. Ha ha.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the meeting, which occurred at McCarren Park’s multipurpose rooms and play center (or something), I decided to hoof it back to Astoria as it was a nice night and it wasn’t raining. After getting back to the neighborhood, which involved setting up the tripod a few times along the way, I ended up in a debate with two Hellenes about the origins of the ethnodecriptive term “Greek.” I favor the interpretation that it’s a latin language racial slur (Grik – short legged) popularized by the Roman Empire, and asked them if the actual Hellenic Language uses “Greek” or even refers to their nation state as “Greece” when speaking about it in their own tongue. This devolved quickly, and I was put on the spot to explain the origins of the Jews, and soon found myself arguing against the Eastern Orthodox assertion of the Jews as being Christ killers.

All in good fun, nothing like a good historical debate with the Pizza guy and his buddies at midnight on Broadway here in Astoria. It was all very civil. That’s a word with a latin origin too, civil is. Polis, and politic, are hellenic words.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 16, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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It’s not luck or preparation, just good timing with me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Returning to Astoria after a recent sojourn to the fabulous Newtown Creek, one elected to cross the waterway at a point some 1.3 miles from its intersection with the East River. Luckily, that’s where the City of Greater New York maintains that chunk of our collective property which they call the “John J. Byrne memorial bridge” or as it’s known more simply to everybody else – the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge.

As I was nearing the apogee of the span, descending traffic barrier signal arms accompanied by bells and flashing lights provided indication that this double bascule draw bridge was about to open up and allow a maritime passage. What fun!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gazing through the security fencing, a humble narrator did spy a barge and tug plying the contaminant rich waters of the Newtown Creek. The barge was set up to act as a platform for a crane, by all appearances. Perhaps it was coming from the nearby Kosciuszcko Bridge project, but that’s just idle speculation.

It’s a big old creek, Newtown is, with lots and lots going on all the time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

With the bridge open and the always heavy flow of automotive and truck traffic halted, one took the opportunity to run around on the roadway without the fear of getting squished. You can just see the top of that crane moving alongside the Brooklyn side roadway bascule, above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYC DOT bridge tender was definitely keeping an eye on me, to which I say “fair enough.” Imagine the sight of one such as myself, darting to and fro across the concrete roadway, hooting and hollering in my revel, camera waving about and filthy black raincoat whipping in the breeze.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then the joy came to an end, as all joy must. A return to the ultra mundane occurred as the bridge returned to its resting state. One set his feet solidly to work and strode defiantly into Blissville, eyes fixed on the north, where Astoria eternally awaits.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

March!

That’s the Long island Expressway there, incidentally, at Borden Avenue and Van Dam. I love this point of view on it.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.


Events!

Slideshow and book signing, April 23rd, 6-8 p.m.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for a slideshow, talk, and book signing and see what the incredible landscape of Newtown Creek looks like when the sun goes down with Mitch Waxman. The event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP here. Light refreshments served.

Click here to attend.

The Third Annual, All Day, 100% Toxic, Newtown Creekathon. April 28th.

The Creekathon will start at Hunter’s Point South in LIC, and end at the Kingsland Wildflowers rooftop in Greenpoint. It will swing through the neighborhoods of LIC, Blissville, Maspeth, Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint, visiting the numerous bridges that traverse the Creek. While we encourage folks to join us for the full adventure, attendees are welcome to join and depart as they wish. A full route map and logistics are forthcoming.This is an all day event. Your guides on this 12+ mile trek will be Mitch Waxman and Will Elkins of the Newtown Creek Alliance, and some of their amazing friends will likely show up along the way.

Click here to attend.

grim party

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Merry merry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking this week and the first half of next off, so singular images will be greeting you through the week. Have a joylessly laconic Festivus, a Merry Christmas, and a Kwazy Kwanzaa.

Be back on the 27th to finish up the year at this. your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 26, 2018 at 11:00 am

frenzied letter

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My beloved Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting thing about night time tripod based photos, which take fairly long intervals to capture, is that you become quite familiar with traffic patterns on area bridges. One was out fairly late on a Sunday night recently, shooting from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and attempting to execute the shot above in between traffic light signal rotations. Finding a twenty five second interval, even forty minutes after midnight on a Sunday night, in which a heavy truck or MTA Bus is not crossing the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and causing it to shake, vibrate, or heave… is a challenge.

There were about six shots on my camera card previous to the one above which were ruined by the sudden appearance of a speeding garbage truck, bus, or oil delivery semi and their somewhat seismic effect on the bridge. Such is life, I suppose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Things were a bit quieter back on Greenpoint’s Apollo Street, the titular epicenter and official discovery point of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. Once upon a time, this was the dividing point between two of Standard Oil’s refinery facilities (both of which later became a part of Mobil), but today it’s just a wasted little street end defined by a former BP Amoco and now Kinder Morgan petroleum distribution tank farm. The eastern side of the street is owned by the Manhattan/Empire Beverage Distribution company, a warehouse based operation that accomplishes the holy task of stocking NYC’s bars and liquor stores with product.

I’ve never met the Empire Beverage people, but I’d personally like to thank them for facilitating my life long love of degeneracy and for several besotted episodes of happiness that have punctuated my otherwise miserable existence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, at night, the sections of the Newtown Creek industrial zone where you’d expect things to be buzzing 24 hours a day are rather quite peaceful. It’s basically you and hundreds of feral kitties back here. There are weird moving shadows you’ll spot out of the corner of your eye snaking along the rooftops, which are often accompanied by a chittering sound that I do not like, but the less said about that the better.

There are some things you do not want to say too much, or know anything about, quite frankly.


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Arrrrgh!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has been chasing a shot for quite a bit of time now, one which has eluded me with all the skill of a Bigfoot. I’ve gotten high in LIC looking for it, spent a lot of shoe leather wandering around Newtown Creek in a safety vest at night, and have even spent time in the Shining City during the quest. Frustrating is this particular pursuit, as although I’ve captured some nice imagery, “the shot” still remains elusive.

Above, looking eastwards from Manhattan at the notorious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a matter of perspective, you see. I need to attain some altitude in order to get the right POV, a high rooftop or windowed enclosure in the east 20’s of Manhattan which will allow me to capture the Newtown Creek in some detail and provide a 3/4 down view of the waterway. Empire State Building would be perfect, but there’s all sorts of rules involved with shooting from up there (at night) which negate  that possibility. They ban the use of camera supports like tripods or stands up on the observation decks (which is reasonable, I suppose), but unfortunate for the shot I need to pull off would involve all sorts of “kit.”

I’ve asked everyone I know if they know anyone at the Empire State Building, which has received a consistently negative reply. I’m sure I can talk the ESB people into letting me have literally ten minutes up there with my setup if I had the chance, but…

Arrggggghhhh!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I will, somehow, get that shot.

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. So, again, I’m putting out a clarion cry… If you are reading this and have access to a high vantage point on the extreme east side of Manhattan anywhere between 14th and 34th street (preferrably around 23rd street) and would be willing to let me roll by with camera and tripod on a clear night – I will be in your way for a maximum of fifteen minutes. Contact me at newtownpentacle@yahoo.com if so.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

disordered nerves

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Moonscape, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the larger properties found along the Newtown Creek is the National Grid site. It’s a bit of black box, Nat Grid, and appropriately a high security “Marsec 1” zone. Marsec 1 is the same security level as the runway of an airport or the bulkheads at a cargo port, and that means a lot of paranoia on the part of those employed in the business of keeping the place secure. The street facing sections of Nat Grid are designed to look like a military base with double layers of fencing topped with razor wire and an obvious series of security cameras pointed at them. There’s also guards patrolling the area.

All of this is actually a good thing, as those two white tanks you see above are cryogenic storage units for “LNG” or Liquefied Natural Gas. In the past I’ve indicated that were these things to explode, it would take half of Brooklyn and Queens with them, but the Nat Grid folks have since told me that’s impossible. Were a rupture to occur, they say, it would near instantaneously freeze the surrounding air due to the extreme cold temperatures of the LNG inside and seal the breech. I don’t argue with engineers, as that’s usually an argument you will lose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lombardy Street is another one of those byways in the Creeklands which is entirely contained by them, and “cul de sac’d.” It starts at Kingsland Avenue a few blocks to the south, and terminates at the water’s edge of Newtown Creek. For most of its course, it defines the western border of Nat Grid’s property line.

The Nat Grid property was originally owned by Brooklyn Union Gas, a corporate entity formed in 1825 which consolidated the gas lines of the City of Brooklyn and parts of Queens under single ownership by 1895. By 1910, BUG was operating something like 2,100 miles of metered pipe and manufacturing the gas they sold at a smallish property along the Gowanus Canal in South Brooklyn. By 1928, BUG was pumping some 22 billion cubic feet of gas through their network. They needed to expand their operations, and their source of supply, so in 1929 the Gowanus plant was shuttered and they relocated their facilities to a new 115 square acre property along Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The BUG people built a manufactured gas plant here, which burned fuel in low oxygen furnaces called “retorts” designed to encourage the fuels to smolder rather than combust. The gases released by the retort were then separated chemically, in pursuit of the manufacture of Methane or “Natural Gas.” There were all sorts of corollary chemical compounds, some commercially desirable, that were released from the fuel. A lot of waste came along with it as well; coal tar, ammoniacal liquors, arsenic compounds. Manufacturing gas can get messy.

BUG called this site the Vandervoort Street facility, and it was designed to manufacture 200 million cubic feet of gas a day. Through corporate mergers and stock market acquisitions, BUG ended up becoming a part of the Keyspan Company, which itself was acquired by National Grid at the start of the 21st century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lombardy Street in eastern Greenpoint/Western Bushwick (depends how you define the areas, by whom, and when) is less than friendly to the itinerant pedestrian under the best circumstances. It’s a heavy trucking backwater, used to avoid getting hung up in traffic on nearby Meeker Avenue. The street itself is an atrocity, missing sidewalks distinguish most of its length, and the vehicle lanes which you’re forced to walk on are so chewed up that it would be quite an easy thing to snap an ankle while scuttling along it.

That’s something I can personally attest to, incidentally. Came within an inch of cracking a bone one day a couple of summers ago on Lombardy. If I wasn’t wearing my trusty Merell hiking shoe which offer ankle support…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a gas flare tower at the National Grid site which always draws my attention.

It makes a loud hissing whistle sound (hisstle?) that always pulls me to it, and then there flames… so…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been on the Nat Grid site just once, when the company’s PR representatives consented to my multiple requests to “get me smart” about their operations. Unfortunately the visit took place in an office building way on the other side of the site and involved a slide show presentation about their clean up operations for the place.

It seems the BUG people left behind quite the mess, which is why National Grid is one of the “Potentially Responsible Parties” named by the EPA as being culpable for the Newtown Creek Superfund site.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2018 at 2:00 pm

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