The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Hells Gate’ Category

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Triborough and Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, one is taking a short break – hence the singular image which greets you above. Back soon with new stuff.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours and events –

October 10th, 2015
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 9, 2015 at 1:14 pm

swinging and plunging

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It’s all so depressing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too long ago, a humble narrator left HQ and soon found himself at Hells Gate. One always finds it amazing how alone you can feel when surrounded by literally thousands of people, but there you go. Melancholy and regret notwithstanding, it was decided to sit down and watch the surrounding city for a spell from a stationary vantage point.

“Winter is coming” is what was on my mind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Off in the distance – a tugboat was towing a barge down the East River from the direction of Flushing Bay, and since there was literally nowhere else for me to go, I sat and waited for it to transit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tug was the McAllister Girls. The fuel barge it was towing was clearly empty, given how high it was riding in the swirling maelstroms of the Hells Gate section of the estuarine East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The background was provided by the DEP’s Wards Island plant, where centrifugal machinery separates a pestilence of filth out of a watery solution which the sewer people refer to as “honey” but the rest of just call “sludge.” In NY Harbor, it is difficult to avoid fecal matter, as the harbor is full of it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The currents in this section of the river, spanned by both Triborough and Hell Gate bridges, are notorious and powerful. Once, Hells Gate was a breaker of ships and consumer of lives, before the Army Corps of Engineers exploded the underwater geology which promulgated the formation of whirlpools and ripping tides.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even today, it takes a bit of skill – and a powerful set of engines – for Mariners to conquer the cross currents and tidal action of Hells Gate. It’s nowhere close to the historical force of water, spoken about with awe and respect by sailors in the historical record, but this stretch of the river is still fairly treacherous.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

McAllister Girls, of course, managed Hells Gate with little trouble. The tug and barge continued along, entering the east channel of the river and continuing along to the south. Likely, she was headed for Kill Van Kull or Arthur Kill to drop off the empty barge and begin the process of moving another full one to some farm of coastal fuel tanks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was all pretty depressing though. Winter is coming.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

October 10th, 2015
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 1, 2015 at 2:30 pm

faint draft

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Sludge Boats, baby, Sludge Boats…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those two weeks which formed the end of November, a humble narrator was enjoying a vacation from all things with the Missus. In fact, for about half of our vacation time, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself weren’t even on the North American continent. The week of Thanksgiving, we were back, but maintained a low profile.

One thing which drew me and the camera out of our splendid seclusion, however, was the news that the NYC DEP would be holding a ceremony to christen the fleet of three new sludge boats over at their Wards Island facility. How could I resist… I mean… Sludge Boats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MV’s (municipal vehicles) Rockaway, Port Richmond, and Hunts Point have been shaking down in NY Harbor all year. Remember, back in the beginning of 2014, when a humble narrator braved the chill climes of a polar vortex at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to bring you images of Hunts Point?

You’ll say “jump” and I’ll say “how high” when the subject of Sludge Boats is at hand. Height is what these boats are designed around, incidentally. This new class of MV’s can pass under the Pulaski Bridge, spanning my beloved Newtown Creek at high tide, without requiring the drawbridge to open.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lady in the center of the shot is DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd, incidentally, with Deputy Commissioner Angella Locata to her left. I don’t know who the lady on the right is, but I led this post off with her christening the Hunts Point, so there you are.

There were lots and lots of important folks at Wards Island – brass from DEP and City Hall, Press, even a press Helicopter – as well as a whole gaggle of us from the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee. NCMC is a community group that performs citizen oversight on the multi billion dollar construction efforts at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant over in Greenpoint, and the delivery of these three new Sludge Boats are a sign that the decades long project is nearing completion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the ceremonial events were accomplished, the DEP welcomed all onboard the Hunts Point, allowing an opportunity for inspection and observation.

The Port Richmond peeled out of the dock early, probably because it had “shit to do.” Get it? Shit to do? Sludge Boat… Shit… Ahhh, nevermind. Port Richmond headed south toward the Triborough Bridge through the Hells Gate section of the estimable East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Exploration of the boat brought me to the big chair up on the bridge, and although no one would have let me start the engine and put Hunts Point through her paces, I did stand there murmuring “vroom vroom” until such time as I was asked to stop doing so. I did manage to say “make it so” and “ahead warp factor 3, Mr. Sulu” as well. One thinks that being so close to the very locus of Robert Moses’s power base on Wards Island causes odd concatenations in the thought process.

Alternatively, actually getting on a Sludge Boat after all these years simply made me giddy with delight. A big Mazel Tov goes out to the NYC DEP on the occasion of the birth of their new triplets.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

approaching triumph

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Infrastructure pornography, gratuitous and forbidding, in today’s post.

Also, I’ll be at Brooklyn Brainery on February 27th presenting “the Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaze upon the terrible scale of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn with… Staten Island… Bridges are on my mind today, especially the ones that connect Long Island with other extant land masses scattered about the archipelago.

Today will be just a lot of photos, and your humble narrator will be taking advantage of the short interval of warmth offered today. Out and about, looking at things- that’s me.

from wikipedia

The bridge is owned by the City of New York and operated by MTA Bridges and Tunnels, an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Interstate 278 passes over the bridge, connecting the Staten Island Expressway with the Gowanus Expressway and the Belt Parkway. The Verrazano, along with the other three major Staten Island bridges, created a new way for commuters and travelers to reach Brooklyn, Long Island, and Manhattan by car from New Jersey.

The bridge was the last great public works project in New York City overseen by Robert Moses, the New York State Parks Commissioner and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, who had long desired the bridge as a means of completing the expressway system which was itself largely the result of his efforts. The bridge was also the last project designed by Chief Engineer Othmar Ammann…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

East River Bridge #1, or East River Suspension Bridge #1, or Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn.

from nyc.gov

The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, and a New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

East River Bridge #3, or Manhattan Bridge, from the water.

from nyc.gov

The youngest of the three DOT East River suspension bridges, construction began on October 1, 1901. The bridge opened to traffic on December 31, 1909 and completed in 1910. The Bridge’s total length is 5,780 feet from abutment to abutment at the lower level; and 6,090 feet on the upper roadways from portal to portal. Its main span length is 1,470 feet long and each of its four cables is 3,224 feet long. The Bridge was designed by Leon Moisseiff (1872-1943)…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

East River Bridge #2, Williamsburg Bridge, from Manhattan.

from nyc.gov

When it opened in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a span of 1600 feet and a total length of 7308 feet and the first with all-steel towers. The 310-foot steel towers support four cables, each measuring 18_ inches in diameter and weighing 4,344 tons. In all, nearly 17,500 miles of wire are used in the cables that suspend the bridge 135 feet above the East River. The massive stiffening trusses were designed not only to withstand high winds, but also to support rail traffic on the deck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

East River Bridge #4, Queensboro Bridge, from Long Island City.

from nyc.gov

The bridge was constructed between 1901 and 1909 and was opened to the traffic on June 18, 1909. A collaboration between the bridge engineer Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935) and architect Henry Hornbostel, the main bridge is 3,725 feet long, the longest of the East River Bridges. The overall length of the bridge including the Manhattan and Queens approaches is 7,449 feet.

The site is an ideal location for a bridge as Roosevelt Island provides a convenient footing for the piers. Seventy-five thousand tons of steel went into the original bridge and its approaches. Its original cost was about $18 million, including $4.6 million for land. At the time of completion, it was not only the longest cantilever bridge in the United States, but also was designed for heavier loads than any other bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welfare Island, aka Roosevelt Island Bridge, from Roosevelt Island looking towards Queens.

from nyc.gov

The Roosevelt Island Bridge is a tower drive, vertical lift, movable bridge across the East Channel of the East River between the borough of Queens and Roosevelt Island, New York City. The span length is 418 feet. It was known as the Welfare Island Bridge when it was first opened to traffic in 1955.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Triborough Bridge, aka Robert F Kennedy Bridge, from Astoria, Queens.

from wikipedia

Construction began on Black Friday in 1929, but soon the Triborough project’s outlook began to look bleak. Othmar Ammann, who had collapsed the original design’s two-deck roadway into one, requiring lighter towers, and thus, lighter piers, saving $10 million on the towers alone, was enlisted again to help guide the project. Using New Deal money, it was resurrected in the early 1930s by Robert Moses, who created the Triborough Bridge Authority to fund, build and operate it. The completed structure was opened to traffic on July 11, 1936.

The total cost of the bridge was more than $60 million, one of the largest public works projects of the Great Depression, more expensive even than the Hoover Dam. The structure used concrete from factories from Maine to Mississippi. To make the formwork for pouring the concrete, a whole forest on the Pacific Coast was cut down.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate Bridge, also from Astoria, Queens.

from wikipedia

The Hell Gate Bridge (originally the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge or The East River Arch Bridge) is a 1,017-foot (310 m)[3] steel through arch railroad bridge in New York City. The bridge crosses the Hell Gate, a strait of the East River, between Astoria, Queens and Wards Island in Manhattan.

The bridge is the largest of three bridges that form the Hell Gate complex. An inverted bowstring truss bridge with four 300-foot (91.4 m) spans crosses the Little Hell Gate (now filled in); and a 350-foot (106.7 m) fixed truss bridge crosses the Bronx Kill (now narrowed by fill). Together with approaches, the bridges are more than 17,000 feet (3.2 mi; 5.2 km) long.

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sensitive shadow

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Almost immediately following the appearance of the MV Newtown Creek sludge boat described yesterday, the Sea Wolf tug appeared at Hellsgate, making it ineffably clear that there is no place for me to escape from Newtown Creek and its world. Sea Wolf is a regular sight on the Creek, and the barge it was handling no doubt came from the recycling facilities of SimsMetal also found on the troubled waterway which defines the currently undefeated border of Brooklyn and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Although my life seems to be some sort of permanent vacation, albeit one lived on an art students budget, it has been too long a time since one has left New York City and viewed something unspoiled- or just different. Part of this is due to work, and an inability to get away for any protracted length of time, but there is something else at work in my mind. One might actually have grown afraid to leave the megalopolis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like any prisoner, your humble narrator has become institutionalized, and cowers before the unknown world beyond the palisade walls of the Hudson or the crashing waves of Jamaica Bay. Rationalizations abound… there are a few places I’d like to visit- mainly in Europe (financially and culturally impossible), a few in Asia (similarly unattainable), and many in North America. Traditional vacation destinations don’t work for me, as personal descriptions of hell involve sitting in a chair on a beach and doing absolutely nothing while staring at empty horizons.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The manner in which my mind works, an admittedly byzantine and muddled process, breaks words down to find their true meanings. Recreation is “re-creation” and one has no desire to be recreated in any manner. Vacation is “vacant”. There is no break, no moment of rest for one such as myself. Enough of this idle, sitting in Astoria Park and watching the ships slide by. Clearly it is time to go back to my world of pain and misery along the Newtown Creek- where I belong.

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

abrupt command

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spending so much time around the Newtown Creek, despite its myriad charms, one often desires to visit other locales. Accordingly, a recent afternoon was spent wandering about the shorelines of Astoria, specifically the legend haunted Hells Gate. Astoria Park adjoins the waterway, and it’s unique elevation over the strait affords one a lovely opportunity to witness not just the rail lines which exploit the Hellsgate Bridge, but to spot and photograph a disturbingly heterogenous number of commercial ships.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My desire to escape the creeklands for a moment is merely a passing whimsy, an attempt at normalcy. One often fears that this, your Newtown Pentacle, might strike a single note too often and accordingly efforts are made to explore an ever expanding series of sites and situations around the harbor. This is what was on my mind, when a DEP Sludge Boat came into view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My goal in coming here was to avoid all mention of the world normally occupied, and to enjoy an afternoon with “Our Lady of the Pentacle” while perambulating about beneath the autumnal thermonuclear burning eye of god itself. To merely experience a day absent from conversations about municipal waste handling, titanic industrial combines, and speculation about “all there is, that might be buried down there”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Paranoid and stupefyingly pedantic, my world view is decidedly determinist. Nothing “just happens” and causation often indicates correlation as far as I am concerned. Newtown Creek will not allow me to escape its company, even for a short while. The Newtown Creek has actually begun to follow me about.

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

eery pinnacle

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Until you’ve had a flock of baby birds vomit on you, you haven’t really lived.

It seems that such regurgitation is just part of the daily grind here on South Brother island, an unassuming prominence found on the East River. Heavily wooded, the island is owned and managed by the Government(s) and it is usually “verboten” for primates to even visit.

from wikipedia

South Brother Island is one of a pair of small islands in the East River situated between the Bronx and Riker’s Island, New York City and is 7 acres (28,000 m2) in size. It is uninhabited. The other island, larger and better known, is North Brother Island. Until 1964, South Brother Island was part of Queens County, but it is now part of Bronx County. It had long been privately owned, but was purchased by the city in 2007. Together, the two Brother Islands, North and South, have a land area of 81,423 square meters, or 20.12 acres (81,400 m2).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator managed to insert himself into a scientific survey of the breeding colony of Cormorants, Herons, and Egrets which thrive upon the riverine island. The island has been allowed to go feral, and is positively overrun by seabirds. Upon arriving there via a Zodiac boat, one of the fellows employed by the NRG (Natural Resources Group) of the NYC Parks Dept. asked me if I knew what poison ivy looked like.

Informing him that he should just assume my general ignorance about all things, he remarked- you’re standing in it.

from wikipedia

Toxicodendron radicans, better known as poison ivy (older synonyms are Rhus toxicodendron and Rhus radicans), is a poisonous North American plant that is well known for its production of urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an itching, or sometimes painful rash in most people who touch it. The plant is not a true ivy (Hedera).

Poison ivy can be found growing in any of the following three forms:

  • as a trailing vine that is 10–25 cm tall (4 to 10 inches)
  • as a shrub up to 1.2 m tall (4 feet)
  • as a climbing vine that grows on trees or some other support

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The party split into two groups, and the one I accompanied headed into the stand of trees which comprises the center of the island. Thick and overgrown, the darkness of the place was palpable, and a raucous chorus of bird calls was emanating from the canopy above. The mission was to count the number of nests installed (in this section by Cormorants) and whenever possible- to count the number of eggs and or hatchlings.

The other group was busy exploring Heron territory.

from wikipedia

The Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), commonly abbreviated to just Night Heron in Eurasia, is a medium-sized heron found throughout a large part of the world, except in the coldest regions and Australasia (where replaced by the closely related Rufous Night Heron, with which it has hybridized in the area of contact).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This was by no means an easy task, given the sort of terrain encountered.

Once- the Newtown Creek’s watershed would have resembled this scene, thought a humble narrator, when a half digested fragment of fish dropped out of the sky and bounced off my boonie hat. It was quickly explained to me that this was normal, expected, and part of their daily round. The floor of the place was a spongy mass of fallen branches, mulch, and guano.

An intense smell of ammonia forced me back to the beach a couple of times.

from wikipedia

Regurgitation is used by a number of species to feed their young. This is typically in circumstances where the young is at a fixed location and a parent must forage or hunt for food, especially under circumstances where the carriage of small prey would be subject to robbing by other predators or the whole prey is larger than can be carried to a den or nest. Some birds species also occasionally regurgitate pellets of indigestible matter such as bones and feathers. Penguins are known to regurgitate in order to feed their young ones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shooting conditions were difficult, with dense foliage and few clearings. The humidity was nearly unbearable. The instructions I had received from the group leader indicated that I should dress in long sleeves, full length pants, and wear heavy boots.

Conditions on the island indeed demanded such cautions, but heat and humidity plus the aforementioned ensemble worn with a hat while carrying a camera bag and around six pounds of camera and lens made for an uncomfortable morning.

Karmic justice, I suppose, for all the complaining about being cold I subjected you to during the winter at this- your Newtown Pentacle.

this page at nysl.nysed.gov lists all the complaint departments in New York State

Complaint Departments

New York State government information and resources on Complaint Departments.

Consumer Information

WWW.NY.GOV – cick on “Complaints.

Attorney General’s Office 

Consumer Frauds Bureau

Complaints – Includes a section on “Complaints for Other Agencies” to help people contact the appropriate agency…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that I absolutely detest camping out, abhor hikes in the woods, and am- by definition- a City Boy. Nature wants to eat you, and will at the very first chance it gets. You might be disarmed by the coy attractions of these baby birds, but give them the chance and they’d rip you to shreds.

Then they’d vomit the bits back out onto the next guy who visits this island.

It did occur to me that this might be a safe haven in case of a zombie apocalypse, but the nearby North Brother Island would probably be a better choice. Seriously, I’m not just being paranoid, nature can be messed up, and given several recent headlines– might be time to start formulating a plan for upcoming Nights, Dawns, and Days.

from wikipedia

The bird family Phalacrocoracidae is represented by some 40 species of cormorants and shags. /ˈkɔrmərənt/ Several different classifications of the family have been proposed recently, and the number of genera is disputed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the real world, of course, such fancies fall before the hard materialism of the empirical mindset, and this mission I was accompanying dwelt naught upon such extravagant thinking. They were doing the hard work of field science, collecting data and samples for later analysis. The South Brother Island was acquired by the Parks people in 2008 and the notion of dedicating the tiny island(s) as a refuge for seabirds is actually pretty darned cool.

from nycgovparks.org

In 2001, the City assigned Parks jurisdiction over the publicly-owned lands extending outward from the shores of South Brother Island. The island itself was owned by Hampton Scows, Inc. The recent acquisition of South Brother Island was directly negotiated and completed with approximately $2 million in funds allocated by Congressman Jose Serrano through NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.

The acquisition was executed by The Trust for Public Land on behalf of the recipients of the NOAA funding, The Wildlife Conservation Society and The Point Community Development Corporation. The Trust for Public Land then donated South Brother Island to Parks for public ownership, management, and natural resource protection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting auditory effect was noticed, incidentally, which rendered the vocalizations of the avian multitudes into something akin to that which you would hear coming from a crowded lunchroom full of school kids. This blended with a syncopated call and response of what sounded like calisthenics PE over at Rikers Island, a short distance away.

Note- the island is strictly off limits (said status is zealously enforced by several of the different harbor officialdoms and gendarmes). I was the guest of a highly trained and dedicated crew who catechized me on the rules of the place and watched my every step to insure that no harm came to anything living here. It is illegal, in the extreme, to visit this place without prior approval from the authorities.

Despite my dripping sarcasm and good natured kvetching about the trip, the folks I was with are really fighting the good fight here, gathering data in difficult conditions in order to understand the breeding habits of endangered wildlife to foment the survival of said species in the harbor of New York.

check out this 2007 report from harborestuary.org, which contains data supplied by some of the folks on this trip, and is an earlier iteration of what they were up to just a few days ago.

Also:

June 16th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance has asked that, in my official capacity as group historian, a tour be conducted on the 16th of June- a Saturday. This walk will follow the Dutch Kills tributary, and will include a couple of guest speakers from the Alliance itself, which will provide welcome relief for tour goers from listening to me rattle on about Michael Degnon, Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason, and a bunch of bridges that no one has ever heard of.

for June 16th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally- the “Obscura Day” Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills tour proved that the efficacy and charms of the Newtown Creek’s least known tributary, with its myriad points of interest, could cause a large group to overlook my various inadequacies and failings. The folks at Atlas Obscura, which is a fantastic website worthy of your attentions (btw), have asked me to repeat the tour on the 23rd of June- also a Saturday.

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My various interests out on the sixth borough, NY Harbor, have brought me into association with the Working Harbor Committee. A member of the group’s Steering Committee- I also serve as the “official” group photographer, am chairman and principal narrator of their annual Newtown Creek Boast Tour, and occasionally speak on the microphone during other tours (mainly the Brooklyn one). This year, the group has branched out into terrestrial explorations to compliment the intense and extant schedule of boat tours, and I’m going to be leading a Kill Van Kull walking tour that should be a lot of fun.

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the historic maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at MTA.info.

For June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2012 at 12:15 am

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