The Newtown Pentacle

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curious sequel

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It’s European Day of the Righteous, in the European Union.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, last week I decided to play around a bit with my camera, in the cause of doing “the opposite of what I normally do.” All of today’s shots were shot with my night lenses set wide open to f1.8. Why? Why not? Gotta mix things up every now and then. I had nothing else to do anyway, as I was early for a meeting in LIC and was just hanging around killing time.

The thing in the sapphire megalith finds everything we mortals do funny.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A curious access – or manhole – cover was spotted along Jackson Avenue at a former Taxi depot which has recently been vacated. No doubt, this site will soon host a gigantic apartment building, of course. The creed on the manhole cover is “NYCTS” which likely indicates it as the property of the MTA (NYC Transit System). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having little to do and no where else to go, one headed over to the crumbling 51st avenue footbridge in anticipation of watching a LIRR train go by. Given the current expectations of joy which one such as myself expects, this was a rather exciting prospect, and when the railroad’s signal arms descended over Borden Avenue, I was all a twitter.

This is pretty much all I’ve got these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the LIRR 7100, and unless I’m mistaken – it’s one the 836 electric M7 electric multiple units that the MTA bought from the Bombardier company and which started service in 2002. It’s moving from the Hunters Point Yard to the Hunters Point Avenue station, after crossing under the Pulaski Bridge and across Borden Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Presuming that I’m correct in naming it as an M7, the train is powered via a non proverbial third rail, just like the NYCTA subway system. I hung around for a little bit and watched the train pass by, as I was still quite early for my meeting.

It was all kind of depressing, actually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long Island City has grown so significantly in recent years that this, along with all the other lonely spots which I used to indulge my innate and deep sense of isolation in, was quite crowded. The 51st avenue footbridge which I was squatting upon had a steady stream of pedestrian traffic flowing over it.

Your humble narrator was in the way, as I am in many situations and scenarios.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LIRR train continued on to the Hunters Point Avenue station where it picked up people who had somewhere to go. I had somewhere to go for a change, so I flopped out the big lens for the small one and headed over to my meeting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing in the megalith doesn’t care how any of us feel, just so you know.


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mouldering bulk

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It’s National Canadian Bacon Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Blowing it to bits” is a bit of an exaggeration, as offered by NYC’s tabloid headline writers (and the Governor of New York State), referring to a recently offered plan by the NYS DOT regarding the controlled demolition of the Kosciuszko bridge. Really… this isn’t going to be like the end of the movie Diehard, if anything it’s going to be a bit more like the end of Fight Club.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016, and finally the December 2016 one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYS DOT held two meetings this week, one of which I attended, in which they described their plans. First – the central truss removal plan no longer involves the usage of maritime cranes. What their engineers described instead was the construction of four temporary towers which would support machinery which they described as “strand jacks,” which would lower the central truss down to couple of waiting flat top barges. Welding torches would be used to sever the truss’s links to the bridge superstructure, after the strand jacks are attached to support its weight. The truss will be lowered and secured to the barges, whereupon tugboats would guide it westward out of Newtown Creek, and across the harbor to New Jersey where its steel will be recycled.

They indicated this process would play out sometime around the end of April or the beginning of May. The DOT folks were quite vague about specific dates, saying that these were probable time frames but that they couldn’t commit to specifics at this point in time. This is problematic for me, personally, as I’m in the process of negotiating for boats to do Newtown Creek tours this summer, and the procedure described above includes the closure of the creek to all traffic for a couple of days. Worry, worry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are two steel towers on either side of the Newtown Creek, which the engineering people indicated would be removed using conventional means (torches and cranes). Beyond the two steel towers, there are 21 spans supported by concrete piers – 10 in Brooklyn and 11 in Queens – which support roadway sections that range between large 230 foot long and 800 ton units and smaller ones that are 120 feet long which weigh in at 2-300 tons. These sections are the ones that DOT and the contractor partnership working for them are proposing to use the explosives on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The explosives used, and it should be mentioned that the very conservative FDNY Explosives Unit was present and participating in the discussion, would be shaped charges. What that means is that these things are essentially copper bars with high explosive material attached. The charges are placed at critical structural points on the bridge sections, and when their detonation is triggered, the copper chops right through the steel like a knife through butter. The sections which the explosives will be attached to will be “wrapped in filter fabric and conveyor belting equipment,” as they told us. It’s all very complicated.

The detonation will introduce structural deficits into the bridge sections, which will cause them to collapse in a controlled manner, effectively dropping straight down with little or no flyaway debris. There will be dust on impact with the ground, of course, which is a bit of a concern but the engineers say they have techniques to control that too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vibration from the dropping sections – which again, weigh anywhere between 200 and 800 tons – is a concern, and the engineering folks described a series of dampening and avoidance technologies and techniques to handle that. These involved building engineered soil berms with internal steel structures, digging trenches, and so on. To be honest, I’m a bit concerned about what will amount to a seismic event, given the proximity of Calvary Cemetery and the somewhat ancient building industrial stock of West Maspeth and Eastern Greenpoint, but the FDNY guys seemed cool with it all.

As I said during the meeting – “If an FDNY Deputy Chief told me to go jump off the bridge, I’d probably listen to him or her,” but I have a more than normal level of respect for the FDNY’s opinions. One of the guys speaking at the meeting was a deputy chief, as a note.

As you may notice from the shot above, and the reason this whole demolition story is flying around, is that the DOT and their contractors are nearly done with constructing the eastern half of the new bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The 200,000 units a day of vehicle traffic carried by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway will soon be rerouted onto the new bridge, at which point the old bridge is irrelevant and in the way. A twin of the new bridge will then be erected on its footprints. As often mentioned in the past – this western side of the new span will include a pedestrian and bicycle path.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In West Maspeth, once called Berlinville, you’ll find the sections of the roadway sitting on truck trailers and awaiting insertion into the span. Based on what I’m seeing, they should be installed shortly, and my guess would be that sometime in March the new span over Newtown Creek will be complete.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing which I’m looking forward to in 2017 is a promised walk with the DOT over the new bridge shortly before traffic is rerouted. They’ve been a little vague as to when this will happen, but they have said repeatedly that it will occur. As a note, those are the tracks of the Lower Montauk branch of the LIRR, and a section of them known historically as “Deadman’s Curve.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anywho, that’s your Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project update for the first quarter of 2017, see you on Monday at this – your Newtown Pentacle – with something completely different.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 3, 2017 at 11:00 am

damaged youths

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry gang, another short post greets you today. It’s been one thing after another around HQ, with first a minor injury and now a nasty head cold… a humble narrator just can’t seem to win for losing during the last couple of weeks. A post of some length and profundity will arrive in your inboxes tomorrow, but for today you’ll have to be satisfied with contemplating the weirdly colored waters of the fabled Newtown Creek.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 2, 2017 at 1:28 pm

quainter levels

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

I’ll keep an eye out. 


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monstrous implications

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Owing to other obligations and piss poor weather conditions for the last couple of weeks, one hasn’t got anything new to show you for this week. Accordingly, it has been decided to instead present a few archive shots of the various branches of NYC government which make life liveable for us here in “Home Sweet Hell.”

Today, the focus is on the NYC DEP – the astounding New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m a frequent critic of this agency, due to my knowing WAY too much about their operations because of the whole Newtown Creek thing. Saying that, they are a pretty amazing group. They deliver clean water to our faucets and remove dirty water from our toilets. They’re in charge of policing noise, and chemical spills, and cleaner air. DEP owns a navy, which they humorously refer to as “honey boats.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Deep below the Lower East Side, within a sequestered building that plunges deeply into the ground, there’s a giant pipe into which all the sewage of Manhattan (below 79th street) pours. The other end of this “surge tower” is at the sewer plant in Greenpoint where all of this “yuck” is headed for treatment. The shot above is staring directly down and into the DEP’s maelstrom.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in NYC DEP, Photowalks

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baffling lack

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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


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modern matters

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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


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