The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Mac & Cheese Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, I guess it’s kind of been “Creek Week” around these parts this last week, so let’s finish things up with a tugboat!

As mentioned in Monday’s post, one has been desirous of capturing a few last shot of the old Koscisuzcko Bridge before its deconstruction is engaged, just for the record… y’know? While setting up my gear for a night shoot, the Donjon Tug Brian Nicholas, which appeared in Wednesday’s post briefly, suddenly appeared. I hadn’t affixed the camera to the tripod yet, so I got busy with the clicking and the focusing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas has been in many, many posts at this – your Newtown Pentacle – over the years. Just below is my favorite ever shot of this tug, from 2012.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some 75 feet long, with a gross tonnage of 104 GRT, the Brian Nicholas is owned by DonJon towing and powered by 2 850 HP engines. Brian Nicholas was built in 1966 and retrofitted in 2010 as a “green tug.”

from docs.google.com

This past June, Donjon completed the top-to-bottom refit and replacement of the main engines, generators, gears and related equipment of its tug Brian icholas. The refit was performed in house at Donjon’s Port Newark, New Jersey facility under the supervision of Donjon’s Gabe Yandoli and Robert Stickles. As a result of the refit, the Brian Nicholas is now a “green” tug, compliant with all applicable EPA and Tier 2 marine emissions regulations.

The rebuild included a repowering of the main propulsion with Cummins K38-M Marine engines, which were specifically developed by Cummins to meet EPA and Tier 2 marine emissions regulations. The new engines also meet the IMO, MARPOL and EU Stage 3A requirements. Similarly, the generators were upgraded to incorporate John Deere 4045TFM75 engines, also Tier 2 compliant. In addition to the replacement of the aforementioned engines, the project required virtually total replacement of exhaust lines and routing of new control lines and panels in the engine room and wheelhouse.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas was towing a barge of what looked like shredded metals and construction debris, which would mean that it’s coming from one of the waste transfer locations found along the English Kills tributary further east.

As I’ve said in the past – whether they’re pushing or pulling, tugs are always towing – that’s what the term is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas was headed for the East River, and ultimately it would likely head over to New Jersey, where the recyclable metals on its barge could be packaged up, loade on a container ship, and be then sold on a global commodities market.

See you next week, with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle. Also, I’m doing a tour of Dutch Kills tomorrow – come with? I’ll show you something cool.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

discovered peculiarities

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It’s National Pecan Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One says it all the time – “you never know what you’re going to see along the lugubrious Newtown Creek, so bring your camera.” Last week, I was attending an event at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Nature Walk in Greenpoint when something surprising occurred.

As a note, not sure if my friend’s project is “public” yet, but when it is I’ll share links with you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It wasn’t surprising to see a tugboat at Newtown Creek. It’s still a quite busy maritime industrial waterway, although it’s a shadow of itself compared to a century ago during the First World War when more cargo (by tonnage) than the entire Mississippi River moved along its contaminant stained bulkheads.

What was surprising is what’s intruding on the shot above, in the lower left hand corner. That’s a fishing pole.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some fellow rode up on his bike and began assembling his angling equipment, while I was at the Nature Walk. He dropped a hook and lure into the waters of Whale Creek, where the sludge boats dock, and began wiggling his line around. I had a brief chat with him – nice guy – and he assured me that he was “catch and release” fishing and wouldn’t dream of eating anything caught in NYC’s waters.

Then his line went taught and he began to engage the fishing rod’s reel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a striped bass which he pulled up out of the Whale Creek tributary of Newtown Creek. Whale Creek adjoins and is entirely contained by the largest and the newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, and as mentioned above, is where the so called Honey (or sludge) Boats dock, and where they load up the treated and concentrated sewer sludge. There’s also a combined sewer outfall at Whale Creek, which is odd as it’s on the grounds of a sewer plant, but that’s the DEP for you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sport fishing, or “catch and release” as its called, is something I have absolutely no problem with. Saying that, one of the folks also attending the event at the Nature Walk was offended and offered “why harm and annoy such a magnificent animal?” I’d say the same thing if somebody was dropping hooks out of trees for raccoons, but maybe that’s my terrestrial mammal privilege at work. The good news is that there are foot and a half long fish swimming around in freaking Newtown Creek.

Guess that the offended person should have been offered a trigger warning that the real world had been entered, and that fishermen and hunters are amongst the most avid environmental and conservation minded folks you can find. This particular kvetch is well known to me, incidentally, so I can tell you in advance that attempting to offer a particular observation or logic conflicting with their own would have returned naught but a stony glance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can report that the fish, a striped bass incidentally, would likely have agreed with this very sensitive person who frequently annoys me. The blood was coming from the hook, which the angler pried out before releasing the critter back into the waters of Newtown Creek. Fish heal pretty quickly, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has said it before, and will say it again: “you never know what you’re going to see along the lugubrious Newtown Creek, so bring your camera.”


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

odd pantaloons 

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It’s National Fried Chicken Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pondering just what the hell I’m doing with my life is something that happens everytime I cross the Pulaski Bridge, for some reason. As a matter of fact, existential pondering on that subject is a mental activity reserved specifically for crossings of the Pulaski Bridge, and a point is made of not wasting time on such matters elsewhere. I have other locations around Newtown Creek, all of which are assigned to different sets of worries, such as pooping my pants whilst conducting a tour and figuring out how to deal with the public shame and embarrassment (I worry about that at the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge) – but that’s another story.

I’m all ‘effed up. 

Anywho, that’s the Mary H. Tug entering Newtown Creek while towing a fuel barge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mary H. is a regular on the Newtown Creek, working for the Bayside Fuel people whose facility is coincidentally found alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, over on the East Williamsburg side of the world. Technically speaking, Bayside Fuel is on the English Kills tributary and if memory serves – they’re 3.1 miles back from the East River.

Personally, I’ve always thought it pretty cool that tugboats service an industrial dock some 3 and change miles deep into Brooklyn, but that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bunch of the photographers I know have been doing the aerial drone thing of late, so this view of a tug has become rather commonplace in recent years, but I still prefer doing the old fashioned way – finding a high vantage and waiting for it to come to me. I worry about losing my technical edge when I’m over on the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, if you’re curious. You don’t want to know what I worry about on the Borden Avenue Bridge… brrrr.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.”with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 6, 2017 at 11:30 am

ghostly side

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It’s National Chocolate Pudding Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one enjoyed a pleasant evening on a boat tour offered by the Open House NY outfit which explored the City of Greater New York’s solid waste disposal system. The boat was one of Circleline’s smaller vessels (Circleline Queens) and the speakers were Sanitation historian Robin Nagle, SimsMetal’s Tom Outerbridge (who is also a board member at Newtown Creek Alliance), and some fellow from the Department of Sanitation whose name I didn’t catch. It was coincidentally the date of the summer solstice, the light was fantastic (from a photography POV), and it was the longest day of the year.

It certainly felt like the longest day of the year once the boat docked at west 42nd street, and the time came to make the journey back to Astoria, on the landward side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s no secret that I believe Manhattan, particularly the west side of midtown, to be a cautionary tale for urban planners. Some see midtown west, with its recent construction of gigantic residential towers and the nearby Hudson Yards project, as a modern day success story. The urban renewal engineers of the Bloomberg era captured a gritty section of the City which both housed and employed those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum – a problematic population, from the municipal point of view, who consumed far too much in the way of City services – and converted it over to a neighborhood of “pied a terre” and upper middle and management class dormitories.

They forgot, as is the usual case these days, to think overly about transit and supermarkets and places people can gather without permits or permission. In my eye, they made a bad situation worse, in a neighborhood west of the Port Authority bus terminal. What are you going to do though, Manhattan is ruined and has been for twenty years. The junkies are still here, but instead of being able to return to some tenement squat at the end of the day, today they’re just living on the crowded streets and sleeping in the waterfront parks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is what the ridership numbers on the Queensbound E line look like at about 9:30 at night, and you should see what sort of crowding occurs on this line at rush hour. Just a few years ago, at a similar interval, the train population would have been not even half of what you see in the shot above. Why the crowding?

Simply put, not many actual New Yorkers can afford to pay the three to four thousand dollars a month in rent which a one bedroom in this hellish midtown area will cost. The Real Estate Industrial Complex’s dreams of avarice have caused a migration from this so called center out to the so called outer boroughs. It seems that they either never checked with the MTA about ridership capacity, or didn’t bother to care.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, who is lucky enough to live in Astoria, the E is merely a link in the chain of my commute. Once upon a time, my habit was to find a seat on a local train back to Queens and use the time to read, draw in my sketchbook, listen to an audiobook, or just blankly stare off into space.

Since the entire concept of finding a seat on the R in Manhattan is now a fantasy, even late into the evening, in recent years one has decided to instead be clever about using the Subway system and be nimble in terms of enacting as many transfers as I can in pursuance of escaping the inhuman canyons of the Shining City and returning to the human scaled locale known as Astoria. Accordingly, I find myself on the platform at Queens Plaza quite a bit these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the work day, until 9:45 p.m. actually, you have a double chance of getting a local here – the R or M lines. MTA, in their infinite wisdom, cuts M service off at 9:45, effectively halving local service in Queens. This tucks nicely within the statement of what I believe to be the borough motto of “welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself,” which multiple elected officials have personally asked me to stop propagating. I believe however, that I’ve discovered part of the disconnect between elected officialdom, real estate industrial complex, and transit.

During conversation with the NYC EDC regarding their Sunnyside Yards proposal, the EDC folks pointed out that the project boundaries are served by “8 subway lines.” They know this because they checked a subway map. They didn’t realize that, because they all live in Battery Park City or South Brooklyn, that in reality it’s only three lines (R, part time M, 7 lines) which can accessed by just three stations (36th street, 33rd/Lawson, 40th Lowery) which can be reasonably walked to from the center of their proposed project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stretch of Steinway Street pictured above, between 34th avenue and Broadway, sits atop an R/M local station. This would, according to the EDC, be one of the stops servicing what would be roughly half the population of Boulder, Colorado who would be living atop the Sunnyside Yards deck. Again, since they only know this part of Queens from the maps they spread out on polished mahogany desks in the air conditioned offices of lower Manhattan, they don’t realize that the walk from Steinway/39th street at the north eastern side of the proposed deck is nearly a half mile away and would necessitate a hazardous street crossing of Northern Blvd.

Simply put, they want to turn western Queens into the west side of Manhattan. Density is over rated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria is one of the last working class/lower middle class neighborhoods left in the urban core of NYC. Perhaps EDC might want to leave us alone to live our lives the way we wish to, in a human scale neighborhood where the neighbors actually know each other by name. Maybe they’d like to establish a residence nearby and rotate their planning staff into and out of it on a biannual basis so that they could understand what would be lost here.

Perhaps, we should preserve Western Queens as a museum piece of the actual “progressive era.”


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2017 at 1:15 pm

potential menace

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It’s National Pecan Sandy Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After that crazy set of storms that blew threw Astoria earlier this week, an odd orange glow permeated the sky. I got shots of the double rainbow too, of course, but since everyone else in NYC had their phones out and Instagrammed it – what’s the point? I was far more interested in the stage lighting offered by nature.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was also out on a boat in NY Harbor this week, specifically on the solstice, and the sky that presented on the longest day of 2017 did not disappoint. That shot is looking towards New Jersey, from the waters just off Red Hook.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in LIC, one was surmounting the Pulaski Bridge when a LIRR train began making its way towards the Hunters Point Avenue station. This is one of LIC’s great natural spectacles, for one such as myself.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

odd purchases

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It’s National Martini Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things that we, as in the environmental and activist community along Newtown Creek, have been asking officialdom about for years is about why there is zero signage advising the citizenry about not fishing or crabbing in the Newtown Creek. I know this might strike you as odd, but folks actually do fish and crab hereabouts. Observationally, these are people who were born overseas, so the signage issue becomes a bit complicated given the legendary “diversity” of Western Queens and North Brooklyn. The Albany people have always questioned as to why you’d need signage, as it’s illegal to fish without a license, and every NYS licensee has been advised about the environmental conditions encountered on the inland waterways of NYC – which is one of the most “Albany people” things I’ve ever heard.

Luckily, the Feds at EPA realized what we’ve been asking for is necessary and have begun the process of creating advisory signage, and the PRP (Potentially Resonsible Parties) consortium which styles itself as the “Newtown Creek Group” volunteered to manufacture the placards, which EPA would in turn design and install. The signage is pretty close to its final design iteration, and the latest version looks like this. As to where the signs should be placed? Who has carefully documented every little pocket and corner of the streets surrounding the Creek? Who can tell you where people commonly fish? That’s a Newtown Creek Alliance job, anyone can tell you that.

Let’s face it, who ya gonna call?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, one found himself in Greenpoint recently at nine in the morning as the EPA team assembled. Civilians cannot ride in Government vehicles (which is an odd rule, as we technically own them) so the third party contractor who will do the actual installation of the things did the driving. We hit every little corner of the Newtown Creek where people can find access to the water, even the hidden spots where the “utes” of Greenpernt like to experiment with cannibinoids.

It was actually quite a beautiful morning, and the light was fantastic, so while the Feds got busy with the tape measures and GPS’d the various locations we visited, I waved the camera around a bit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We did encounter an “enforcement situation” in Brooklyn alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. There’s a protocol for “who’s responsible for what” along the Newtown Creek. Short version is this – EPA is in charge of Superfund, which is specifically related to the sediments under the water. New or ongoing pollution entering the water is the provence of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The NYC DEP is responsible for absolutely nothing anywhere or anytime, it’s not their fault at all, and they have no idea why they were named as a PRP in the first place as it’s all Exxon or National Grid’s fault.

The fellow from EPA I was on the bridge with confirmed my belief that “I should call this in” and the NYS DEC Spill Response hotline was called. If you spot oil slicks, plumes of floatable contaminants, or as in the case of the shot above – hundreds of gallons of milky white mystery juice exiting one of DEP’s open sewers – the protocol is to first photograph it, as documentation, and then to call 1 (800) 457-7362 to let DEC know about the situation so they can investigate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were, as mentioned above, visiting every conceivable spot that the citizenry could find their way to the water.

That included “off limits” locations like the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge over the English Kills tributary. As you can see from all the interesting graffiti on the bridge, which carries lead tracks of the Bushwick Branch LIRR, trespassing is pretty common back here. This is the reason that EPA asked Newtown Creek Alliance to send somebody along with them, as there’s the “official story” and a “real story” found along the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This family of Canada Geese were encountered at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, and were being predated by a feral cat who was anxious for breakfast. Momma and Poppa Goose were just out of frame to the left, so the cat made a brilliant decision and continued on into the brush to look for some easier prey. We encountered a couple of broods of Geese over the course of the morning. Geese can be ornery, as a note, and will smack you up if they’re annoyed.

One of these illegal alien avian bullies, at Maspeth Creek, actually hissed at us as we neared, and stuck its tongue out at me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reasoning behind the signage is based around science rather than good humored politics, incidentally. When you’re chatting with environmental officials, they don’t refer to oysters or mussels as shellfish, rather they call them “bioaccumulators.” Animals that are high up in the food chain have internal organs – livers in particular – and muscular tissues which have amassed dangerous levels of whatever pollutant is found in the sediments of the waterway, which they’ve attained by consuming all the prey critters who are below them in the food chain hierarchy. In the case of crabs, in particular, you can encounter a fantastic amount of chemical concentrates due to their particular niche and occupations.

Newtown Creek is – of course – a Federal Superfund site. The sediment beds hereabout are a goulash of petroleum and petroleum byproducts, organocopper compounds, volatile organic compounds, PCB’s, coal tar, sewage, and everything else that has ever been dumped or spilled into the water. The sediment is referred to as “black mayonnaise” and it’s where the crabs live. It’s also where most of the invertebrates that form the bottom of the food chain for the fish population live. Itty bitty critters eat the decaying organics of the black mayonnaise, and slightly less itty bitty critters eat handfuls of the little guys, and the larger critters eat hundreds of them – you get the idea.

You don’t want to eat fish or crabs that you catch in the Newtown Creek. Really.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

pocket flask

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It’s International Lemon Drizzle Cake Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My understanding is that there are isolated settlements, and pockets, of humanity which would be found to the north, west, and south of New York City but that just might be an old wives tale. Imagine… someplace which is not NYC… it boggles the mind. Do these semi mythological people wear skins and hunt with clubs? Are they the descendants of the Dutch who moved away when the English civilization took regency of our archipelago so long ago? Someday, one must mount an expedition and explore the dark continent found to the west, but for now… one is busy attempting to access a lead clad iron vault hidden away beneath the Steinway Branch Library at Broadway here in Astoria, wherein the Queens library system is rumored to store its collection of blasphemy riddled occult literature.

The Queens Library won’t admit, and will tacitly deny in fact, that a stout vault containing tomes of forbidden occult lore exists in Astoria, but you can’t fool a humble narrator… such wonders do exist, as does the dire information they contain. Why do you think the Greeks and Copts travelled from the orient and settled here? Grow up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Word has it that Dutch Sea Captain Peter Praa brought certain “artifacts” back from the southern Pacific island of Ponape, which he buried in discrete locations around a land grant he acquired from the Dutch East India people which once belonged to Dominie Everardus Bogardus. This land was later inherited by Praa’s great grandaughter Anna Hunter. Hunters Point in LIC, as we know it in modern times, is constantly riven by the crews of laborers who are scratching into the mud and rock found here. The cover story offered by officialdom is that these laborers are merely construction workers employed by the Real Estate Industrial Complex, but don’t believe what you’re told. They’re searching for Praa’s treasure, and their employers seek possession of those occluded secrets carried back to the west which the Dutch thought best left buried and forgotten.

Just because a tale is fantastic, unbelievable, or inconceivably byzantine doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Secrets and lies, secrets and lies. There are sections of the Newtown Creek about which even the otherwise overly transparent officials overseeing the Superfund proceedings will not opine. When questions arise about these isolated spots, they grow pale and elusive, avoiding your gaze and changing the subject quickly. What have they found in the muck and mire, in certain stretches of the waterway, particularly on the Brooklyn side, where the pirate Blackbeard is said to have buried a cache of stolen booty? The 19th century tales told by the toll bridge attendants of the Penny Bridge? The man like things with frog heads which they reported as loping out of the water in the dead of night and howling at the moon? Myths and old wives tales, if you believe the powers that be.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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