The Newtown Pentacle

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furnace tendings

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Banal pedantry, Newtown Creek, and the Feds – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ever since the Simpsons movie came out a few years back, whenever the subject of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency comes up, Our Lady of the Pentacle begins to shout out “EEPAH, EEPAH, EEPAH.” Given the amount of time I spend at, on, and around Newtown Creek – Our Lady oft finds herself repeating “EEPAH, EEPAH, EEPAH.”

Last week, one found himself out in the rain with the EPA Superfund team. We were trying to help them site a series of warning signs, which will be installed at the handful of Newtown Creek “public access” spots which are hidden along the bulkheads and visited by anglers or lookie loos (that includes you kids from Apollo Street), signage whose missive would advise against the catching of or consumption of the fish who populate the lugubrious and heavily polluted depths of the Newtown Creek. “EEPAH,” indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EPA team requested counsel on the placement of their signage from the Newtown Creek Alliance Project Manager – Will Elkins – who asked me to come along as well. We accompanied”EEPAH” on a somewhat grand tour of the Newtown Creek, hitting a bunch of spots where either Will or myself had seen people fishing over the years. The Feds figured out where they place their signage, marked stuff down, and generally did “EEPAH” stuff. I did my thing too.

Whilst at the Brooklyn side Maspeth Avenue street end, the tug Mary H. was spotted.

Mary H. services the Bayside brand oil tanks you’ll notice adjoins the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, barging in bulk product which is then distributed to their end customers via heavy truck. The amazing part of this – and it is somewhat amazing – is that the Bayside distribution facility is about 3.1 miles back from the East River, at the border of industrial Maspeth and Bushwick East Williamsburg.

Tugboats, barging cargo three entire miles into Brooklyn – it boggles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metropolitan Avenue was formerly known as the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike, and it connected Newtown in Queens with the Eastern District of Brooklyn – Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. The crossing of Grand and Metropolitan was also one of the stops on the New York and Manhattan Beach Railroad, its depot would have found at the foot of Greenpoint’s Quay Street in 1912.

The Brooklyn side of Maspeth Avenue follows the northern path of the Maspeth Toll Bridge Co.’s Plank Road, and I was standing on what was once known as Furman’s Island while I was shooting the Mary H. tug. The Plank Road bridge last crossed the Newtown Creek in 1875, during the Presidential Administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Connecting the colonial communities of Maspeth and Newtown via the hellish expanse of Furmans Island (home to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal Dock, and Kalbfleisch and sons, amongst other notorious or malodorous occupants), the Plank Road today exists as a destination for Newtown Creek devotees and fetishists. Also, the Feds.

On the Queens or Maspeth side, Newtown Creek Alliance has a major shoreline rehabilitation project underway, which is being run by the aforementioned Will Elkins. There’ll be a “Don’t eat the fish” sign there too.

“EEPAH.”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

dark and shapely

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Kosciuszko, Kosciuszko, men have named you…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over Thankgiving weekend, a visit was paid to the hazy borderlands of West Maspeth and Blissville. My goal was to check in on and shoot some photos on the progress the NYS DOT is making on Phase One of the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project. Phase One involves the creation of half of the new span, the rerouting of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and the demolition of the 1939 era Kosciuszko Bridge, which overflies the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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. Finally, here’s one from August of 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway now extends out over the water and is firmly shadowing the concrete devastations of Queens, nearly crossing the LIRR Lower Montauk tracks. The BQE Onramp also seems to be coming along, and I suspect that the DOT’s contractors will be joining the bridge span to the Queens side approaches pretty soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the BQE Onramp, there it is. In the foreground is one of the structural steel sections which will be joined to the span and support the road surface. Not pictured are the “panels” of the road surface, which arrived a couple of days later and which were noticed during a subsequent and unrelated visit to the area.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, you can see how the sections are attached. This is a cable stay bridge, of course. The roadway above will carry four lanes of two way traffic, but it’s just half of the new bridge. When the western half of the project is complete, there will be four lanes in each direction, and there’s also going to be a bicycle and pedestrian path.

That’s awesome. Cannot wait to shoot from up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new bridge, as I’ve been mentioning for several years at this point, is going to be quite a bit lower than the 1939 model. That’s going to bring noise issues to Maspeth and Blissville, I fear, but let’s see what DOT has planned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYS DOT is currently wondering what to do with the areas on both sides of the Creek which these columns rise from. There’s talk of public space and treating the two spots in the manner of a park or playground.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Further back in Queens, to the north actually, the approaches to the new bridge seem to be ready for business. I haven’t managed to get up there yet, but cross your fingers, maybe I can talk the DOT folks into a walk through soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the fantastic sort of luck for which I’m distinguished, just as I started back for home (cutting through Calvary Cemetery) the misty murk occluding the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself began to break up, allowing the sky to turn blue and light to suffuse. I turned around and grabbed one last shot, while cursing.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

abominations and blasphemies

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Fight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaze upon the Newtown Creek. Currently an EPA Superfund site. Is it going to be one for long? Will there be an EPA this time next year? Would this be a good place, instead, to site a black and gold casino? I’ve been considering the Trump victory, and its implications. I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff written by people like myself, who thought the Presidential Election would be a logical slam dunk in favor of the more qualified candidate. All of us “lefties” have had to admit that we were wrong in our assumptions that our fellow Americans would actually vote in their own economic and cultural interest.

C’Est la Vie. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Early thoughts on the “new normal” involve trying to take advantage of it, which is the American Way. Should Mr. Trump make good on his promise to build a wall across the narrow part of the North American Continent, rebar and Portland Cement futures look like they’ll be a promising investment. Also, I’m planning on finding out who the leading players in immigration law are, and whether or not they are publicly traded companies.

It’s the EPA thing that we’re all talking about on the Creek, I would mention.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s going to be a very interesting few years, I think.

Mainly, because the Republican Congress is likely going to eat the new President for lunch. Those are shark infested waters down in the District. Let’s face it though, all that Donald Trump actually wants to do stand in front of the cameras while cutting the ribbon on all the “bridges to nowhere” and crony projects they’re going to be building.

The game just continues. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, and as I’ve often opined – National Politics is way above my pay grade. I’ve got other, more decidedly local problems to worry about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a Newtown Creek vacation for the last month, and it’s time for me to get back on the job.


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lurking place

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It’s all so exciting, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The funny thing, for me and perhaps for you, is that today and tomorrow’s posts aren’t the ones I originally intended to present. There are two perfectly fine posts in the unpublished folder which are completely written and formatted and ready to go, but for some reason I just didn’t want to release them into the wild this week. Really can’t tell you why, other than they continue a recent theme rattling on about “the looming infrastructure crisis due to real estate development” which has been explored in recent weeks – so instead – a few pix from a recent walk around LIC. I need a vacation, I really do.

That’s an “at grade” crossing of Borden Avenue which the Long Island Railroad has been using since the 1870’s pictured above. There are just a few of these “at grade” interactions between automotive traffic and rail in NYC, and the Queens side of Newtown Creek is where you can find several of them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cupola of LIC’s sapphire megalith was just peeking out over a couple of squamous warehouse buildings on Borden Avenue, a bit further to the east. Despite the unlikely presence of some inhuman “thing” up there, which greedily stares down upon the world of men with a three lobed burning eye, I often utilize the megalith as a navigation tool while moving through some of the distaff areas surrounding the Newtown Creek.

You can easily see this building from as far away as Staten Island. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throwing my feet around in the area I have christened as “the empty corridor” beneath the Long Island Expressway, which is observationally and historically a fine choice for illegal dumping, this somewhat adolescent cat greeted me recently. One of the interesting things I’ve been noticing of late is that site managers all over the Creek are setting up shelters for the ferals and encouraging them to hang around.

I’ve inquired with a few people on this subject and the reasoning behind the effort boils down to that hiring an exterminator to control rodents is quite expensive, and encouraging a “staff” of onsite 24 hour exterminators to take up residence isn’t. Same logic that farmers use, actually.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 13, 2016 at 11:01 am

chemical paraphernalia 

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Twirling, always twirling, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here amongst the blessed rolling hills of that tower of municipal Babel called Astoria, a humble narrator has been noticing a scent familiar in recent weeks. Whenever one approached the street corner along Broadway between Steinway Street and Woodside Avenue, the scent of raw sewage occurred. Now – given the amount of time I’ve spent over the years describing my adventures along the Newtown Creek (and within a few DEP facilities that govern the sewer system) I’m just going to ask you to trust me when I say that I know EXACTLY what raw sewage smells like. As is my habit, whilst hoping and praying that I’m not the only person in the neighborhood who give one single “‘eff” about the place, I waited for a couple of weeks before calling 311, hoping that someone else would do it.

Meh. If you smell something, say something.

Last week, DEP responded within an astounding 90 minutes of my 311 call to report the smell conditions. I didn’t even have to invoke the “powers that be” of Western Queens, this time, for the system to expeditiously take care of it.

As a frequent and public critic of DEP, I felt compelled to congratulate the agency’s management, which I personally offered to Deputy Commissioner Eric Landau whom I ran into during an unrelated meeting in Greenpoint on the same day that the photo above was captured. Well done, DEP.

The truck pictured has a crane like rig installed, which in turn has a claw bucket attached to the end of its line. The fellow driving the truck opened the access (or manhole) cover on the corner and removed a blockage in the pipes beneath the street. He pulled out what seemed like a significant amount of garbage from down below which was loaded into the bin on the back of the truck. Good show, DEP, and the smell of raw sewage is once gain confined to the faraway Newtown Creek, rather than Astoria’s Broadway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It being preferable that environmental or existential realities be “somebody else’s problem” is the New York City way, after all. All this crap that we all deal with is ultimately our own common fault, and since we got no one else to blame, that means that we don’t want to discuss it. That’s also the New York City way.

I always tell people that despite the fact that I’m involved with multiple environmentally oriented groups, I’m not an environmentalist, but that I know a few and that they are the “real thing.” They’re earth loving nature hippies, sandal wearing berry eaters, and bicycle riding dreamers who don’t understand the harsh realities of the actual tangible universe which the rest of us live in – but may the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself continue to shine beneficently of them, for despite my chides – they can actually get things done and are building a cleaner and healthier future. I’m not an environmentalist, but how can you not aspire to be one?

They are also the people you can count on to call 311 if and when the poop hits the fan, or when the corner sewer grate is exhaling rather than inhaling as it’s designed to do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The unwillingness most of my neighbors evince towards getting involved with, and helping to guide the policies of, our government is something I just don’t understand. Men and women of conscience are everywhere you look in NYC, yet it’s also the NYC way to walk past a burning trash fire and say “somebody else’s problem.” People often ask me “what’s the matter with you, you don’t have enough of your own problems?” in regards to my chiding and constant admonitions regarding “getting involved.” My motivation is selfish, as I may need some help from the cops or whomever, and I believe that if they know me, that help might be a bit more profound in nature. Also, I’m not a fan of sewage smells wafting up out of the century old underground pipes which carry the flow.

Maybe I’m just a cheapskate, and want to know how the third of my household income seized by the government in every paycheck is being spent. Value for money? Expensive boondoggle lining the pockets of political favorites? Don’t you want to know what your money is doing, and how our common investments and properties are being managed? Don’t you want to make sure that De Blasio doesn’t intend to put a homeless shelter on your block?

Why not? 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

suddenly lost

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Getting high in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one of the environmental projects underwritten by GCEF (the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund) opened to the public at Brooklyn’s 520 Kingsland Avenue, alongside that loathsome exemplar of municipal neglect known as the Newtown Creek. In this case, the project is a green roof installed on top of a movie studio, specifically one of the production facilities owned and operated by the Broadway Stages company which is partially housed in a series of formerly industrial locations around Greenpoint and Long Island City. Broadway Stages has been buying up a LOT of property along the Creek in recent years.

Well, I guess the location is still industrial, it’s just a different kind of industry – entertainment rather than petrochemical. At any rate, 520 Kingsland Avenue is a few stories above the flood plain and whilst up there and on site, I got busy with the camera. You’ve seen this point of view before, incidentally – in a 2016 post where I told you about Brooklyn’s invisible flame back in June.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can’t really talk about it quite yet, but let’s just say I’ll be able to take you up there in a couple of weeks on a couple of free tours. I’ll supply the link as soon as it’s public. The green roof at 520 Kingsland was designed with butterflies, of all things, in mind. Saying that it’s a pretty interesting space with neat little walkways weaving through plantings, and there are incredible views of the surrounding industrial zone to check out.

That’s part of Metro Fuel’s truck fleet in the shot above, for the curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The real stunners, amongst the many points of view available from 520 Kingsland Avenue, are the ones in which the shining city of Manhattan provides the backdrop. This sort of urban pornography is possible due to two reasons: one is that the Greenpoint Landing Project is just kicking into gear, so the POV isn’t blocked by forty story residential palaces yet; the other is that the surrounding area is all 19th century landfill which is both low lying and quite flat.

This POV is looking due west from the 520 Kingsland Avenue rooftop, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Northwest POV, gazing across the lugubrious Newtown Creek in the direction of Long Island City’s Hunters Point section.

In the distance, you’ll notice the red and white banded smokestacks of the “Big Allis” power plant at 36th avenue in the Ravenswood section. The Citi building megalith, that sapphire dagger jammed in the heart of the place at Jackson Avenue’s intersection with Thomson Avenue, used to be the only large scale building in the area.

 

As an aside, a few years ago some group of urban planners/art fucks from Pratt University proposed Big Allis’s red and white stripes to me as a branding element for the western Queens waterfront. I had to inform them how we residents regarded the presence of an enormous power plant operating along our waterfront that serves Manhattan’s needs, and that it wasn’t exactly a popular symbol, locally speaking.

 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The singularity of the Citi megalith has, of course, changed. The pace of real estate development in the last few years has been frenetic in LIC, as evinced in the shots above and below. Sometimes, in order to really take it all in, you need to leave Queens entirely – just to gain some perspective.

Funnily enough, this is what I usually say about Manhattan – the best part of “the City” is being outside of it and witnessing the shield wall of buildings from without. An inhuman scale landscape like Manhattan’s can’t be properly observed while you’re within the oppressive shadows of its canyon walls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That white truss structure at center of the shot is the Long Island Expressway, which rises over Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary from its beginnings at the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Dutch Kills intersects with the main body of Newtown Creek about 3/4 of a mile back from the East River, and heads inland for the better part of a mile. The LIE traffic up on that truss bridge is flowing 106 feet over the water. The far right hand side of the shot above shows the construction going on at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Queens Plaza, on the former West Chemicals Company site. Moving left, the rest of the construction is occurring along Jackson Avenue at Purves, Dutch Kills Street, and so on.

All of it is high end residential, incidentally, except for that squamous curvy faced one directly to the left of the orange one. That’s an office building which the NYC Dept. of Health has based itself in nearby Queens Plaza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my little adages, which I gleefully relate on my walking tours of the area, is a facet of NYS law – it dictates that if you were about to buy a home which is known to be “haunted by a ghost” by the current owner and or the surrounding community – the haunting needs to be disclosed before closing the sales contract.

If you’re buying a property that used to be a chemical factory, or a copper refinery, or some other heavy industrial pursuit that rendered the site a “brownfield” – you are under no obligation to disclose the environmental history to a buyer, however.

When you meet newer residents of LIC’s Tower Town or Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and mention a nearby Federal Superfund site defined as “Newtown Creek” – they say “What’s that?”

Upcoming tours and events:


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


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furtive signs

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Triffids at Newtown Creek?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, I was enacting my usual pilgrimage back from Greenpoint to Astoria and since it was a nice day I decided to take the long way home and visit Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary as it had been a good 72 hours since the last time I was there. That’s the Queens Midtown Expressway truss bridge of the larger Long Island Expressway highway complex at its highest altitude, some 106 feet over the water.

In truth, the Dutch Kills route is actually a bit of a shortcut for me, as the route is a good number of blocks shorter than taking the Greenpoint Avenue pathway eastwards through Blissville and Sunnyside due to the somewhat triangular relationship between Northern Blvd. and GP avenue. I like to cut down 27th street from Borden Avenue, in order to access Skillman Avenue, which runs roughly parallel to Northern Blvd. until 39th street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was on 27th street, right in front of what was once known as Irving Subway Grate, that I spotted this bizarre plant. One would like to imagine two distinct scenarios to describe it – one involving extraterrestrial spores settling down upon LIC and spawning an alien vegetable, the other is that the mutagenic chemicals swirling around in the waters of Dutch Kills have perverted and created a new and debased form of life.

It’s probably something that a botanist would instantly recognize, but please – allow me my little fantasies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These seed pods, or perhaps fruit, were heavily armored. They were fairly large, at about 3-5 inches in length.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Were they not shaped like the pincers of an insect, or crab, I would have produced my trusty pocket knife and cut one open to reveal what was inside. Instead, I was fearful that I might get pinched by some autonomic reaction so I stayed at a safe distance. What if they were man eating Triffids in some juvenile form?

You can’t be too careful around Newtown Creek. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What were they? Only that impossible thing, which cannot possibly be real, hiding in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of Long Island City that stares down upon the world of men through its three lobed burning eye, can know for sure.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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