The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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reluctant glimpse

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Tomorrow, tomorrow… it’s only…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weather has a humble narrator down, man. This constancy of daily thunderstorms has really thrown a wrench into the works, and I find myself wistfully thinking of the anthem from the Broadway Musical “Annie” – tomorrow, there’ll be sun… its only a day away. Problem is that “tomorrow never comes,” which leads me from Broadway hopefulness back to mid 1980’s punk. We haven’t seen the sun in so long at this point that mushrooms are growing on my back. I don’t even want to think about the conditions on my beloved Newtown Creek at this point, which must be historically swollen with sewage runoff by now.

Is it just me, or has this been the wettest couple of months in the last twenty years?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All of this weather has really gotten in the way of things for me. I’m not entirely sure that you haven’t seen at least one of the shots in today’s post before, which is symptomatic of some of the dramatic issues thrown down in recent weeks by the various service providers used for delivering the blog. The whole flickr issue has been nothing but a pain in the neck, and I’m quite resentful of having to fork over a bunch of money to the site host in return for them not populating my posts with lowest common denominator advertising. The final straw on that front was the arrival of one of those javascript traps you commonly see at the NY Post website that takes over the screen and is designed to ensure that you have to click on it to get your screen back.

Congratulations, Apple user, you’ve won the day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The forecast for the weekend seems to be looking up, however, so perhaps Annie is wiser than you’d normally expect. One plans on being “out there,” as I have no obligations other than to myself for a few days. I’m anxious to get out in the dark with the tripod as well, and resume the night photography work.


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Buy a book!

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

hoarsely explained

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Checking in on the Kosciuszko Bridge project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor has found me wandering around the fencelines of the Kosciuszko Bridge project site again, and causing their security guys all sorts of worry. As always and as a rule, one does not trespass, preferring instead the peripheries.

The second phase of the construction project began shortly after clearing the rubble left behind by the “energetic felling” of the 1939 era Kosciuszko Bridge, and this is the first post of 2019 that delves deeply into the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The overpasses carrying the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over the streets of Maspeth are nearing completion, and the crews from NYS DOT’s contractor – Granite – seem to be heavily involved with installation of various sorts of pipe. Some of these pipes will presumptively carry water down and away from the roadway, while others will be conduits for electrical cabling, or at least that’s what it looks like to this layman’s eyes.

There’s still all sorts of disruption to the local street traffic occurring here on the border between LIC’s Blissville and Industrial Maspeth. That’s the intersection of Laurel Hill Blvd. and 54th avenue, for the morbidly curious amongst you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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 Kosciuszcko 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 Kosciuszcko 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 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Here’s a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017, a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Here’s some night shots from early July of 2017. A series of posts focused in on the removal of the central truss of the 1939 bridge from the summer of 2017 – a timelapse, some stills, and the barging out of the truss.

More recently, in late September of 2017, a final series of shots of the old bridge were captured in this post. Acquisition of a souvenir chunk of steel from the 1939 bridge was described in this post, and a video of the “energetic felling” of the approaches on October 1st was offered in this one. Still shots and views of the aftermath from the waters of Newtown Creek from later in the day on Oct. 1 are found in this posting, and the aftermath of the demolition as seen from Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville section in this post from October 5th. This post from December of 2017 closed out an event filled year in DUKBO, and a visit to the site at night is described in this March of 2018 post. Another progress report was offered in June of 2018. A nocturnal visit occurred in December of 2018, and here’s a short post from January of 2019.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on 43rd street, the first phase of the project which has been carrying traffic since April of 2017 is visible, with the two new concrete towers of the second phase also in sight. The first phase towers (which are in Brooklyn) are the ones that are garishly lit with cartoonish LED lighting, and the unlit ones are the second phase which are anchored into Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

43rd street remains a barren industrial path, populated by heavy trucking, warehousing, welding supply, and crane companies. Set into a severe incline, 43rd street crosses Maspeth’s 56th road (which is called Review Avenue on the LIC side of the Bridge project) and continues southward towards the former premises of the Phelps Dodge company towards Newtown Creek. There’s an “at grade” rail crossing at its end, and a street called 57th avenue which is occasionally referred to as “Galasso Place.”

There’s a huge FedEx shipping hub down there, and the Restaurant Depot company, both of which sit on former Phelps Dodge properties.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A main thoroughfare for industrial traffic, 56th road is one of those fairly terrifying street crossings you find around Newtown Creek which was definitely designed with little thought to pedestrians. As is my habit in areas like this, and particularly at night, a high visibility “safety vest” is pulled over the shoulders of my filthy black raincoat.

Given the amount of night shooting I’ve been doing over the last year, that vest has become a standard part of my camera bag kit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking through the fences at the heart of the project, southwards towards Brooklyn, from Review Avenue/56th road.

Intentionally, I went down to the site on a Sunday night when no work was going on so as to not get in the way. While you were watching the Super Bowl, I was shooting this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the waterfront of Newtown Creek, looking westwards towards Manhattan, whose skyline you can just see peeking out behind Blissville’s Calvary Cemetery. The Brooklyn side is on the left, is nearby the tail or northern end of Meeker Avenue. I call both areas “DUKBO” or Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards from Review Avenue in LIC’s Blissville section, along the Lower Montauk tracks of the Long Island Rail Road. According to people in the know whom I’ve asked, the new bridge is due to open in either Q2 or early Q3 of this year. It all depends on the severity of winter weather.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 6, 2019 at 12:15 pm

gathered here

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Mitch Waxman, working for YOU!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The pathway which will allow access to the bike and pedestrian lane of the new Kosciuszcko Bridge is pictured above, a terrifying “last mile” section which is owned by the City. This is the approach at “Queens Midtown Expressway” or “Borden Avenue” (depending on whose map it is) which you get to via a southward journey along 43rd street in Sunnyside. It’s also the onramp for the BQE, and there’s nothing separating you from traffic other than a three inch curb. If you’re wondering, this is actually a fairly well used foot path between industrial Maspeth and South Sunnyside – so it’s not just me.

Why do I go this particular way? I’ll show you at the end of the post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Inviting, ain’t it?

A humble narrator is ringing the alarm bells here for a fairly simple reason, the Kosciuszcko Bridge construction project is meant to be opening the second and final half of the project up to traffic (of all kinds) by the end of the summer, at the latest. The City, which is supposed to have been redesigning this section of things (they own it), hasn’t been shown to have started any risible progress yet. Supposedly NYC DOT has a design, but where is it? Shovels in the ground, boys?

I’d be happy with a bunch of jersey barriers, truth be told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For years, literally years, I’ve been keeping an eye on this one.

I cannot tell you how many times in Western Queens that I’ve had the sudden realization that the sidewalk I was scuttling on led onto a highway. One time, after leaving St. Michael’s cemetery, the section of Astoria Blvd. I was walking along suddenly became the shoulder lane of the Grand Central Parkway as the sidewalk just ended.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This path leads to a pedestrian bridge, one that the K Bridge project has recently constructed as a replacement for a far older but similar lane. Friends who grew up on the southern flank of Sunnyside tell me that this path was well familiar to them growing up, and that the road and sidewalk conditions found in the shot above date back to their earliest recollection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just last week, I was walking through here and spotted the condition above. Hadn’t been through in about a month, so it’s possible this collapsed in sewer grate had been lying in wait for an errant tire to enter it for weeks.

Here’s the “working for you part.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First things first, you document it. That’s me and the camera in the shadow on the left. Second, you report it.

Now, here’s the thing… I often have trouble making 311 or 911 operators understand that Queens has hyphenated addresses. Also, it took several paragraphs of text and a few photos to describe the location and condition of this place to you, my quite savvy and well traveled Lords and Ladies of the Pentacle. Additionally, this was a dangerous situation and I feared somebody could be seriously hurt if their tire entered the hole.

Prior experience with road condition and damaged sewer hatch reporting (yep, lots and lots of prior experience) has taught me that it can take weeks for the City to dispatch somebody to do repairs. They’ll send the cops out to throw down a traffic cone, but otherwise – weeks. I’m “Mitch Waxman” however, so a quick scan of the contact list on my phone allowed me to contact the K Bridge team’s Community Liason’s office, who in turn alerted the NYC DEP, whose sewer it is. DEP dispatched an emergency squad within the hour and they had the thing all fixed and repaired by the next morning. On the repair front, I let my pals at Jimmy Van Bramer’s office know about all the goings on and how great I thought it was how the K Bridge team and DEP handled the situation. That was also in the name of “reporting it” since JVB’s office keeps a list of complaints and problems in his District and since this one wouldn’t come to them via 311 or 911, there you are.

Nobody gets hurt. Street boo boo all better now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the other side of the “last mile” path, there is a permanently installed concrete separation between you and the onramp of the BQE. Where it slopes down and ends is the demarcation point of NYC and NYS’s property lines, or so I’m told. Want to guess why they’re there?

Yeah, that was me, suggesting it to the Engineering Team at K Bridge sometime back in 2012 or 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal “Special” Ed once described his ideal job title as “freelance unsolicited criticism,” which would take the form of waking into a bank and decrying the arrangement of the padded ropes leading to the tellers, whereupon he would then hand them a bill for his services. I don’t charge, but I fear that I’m living out Ed’s dream. Ed used to live downstairs from me in an apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, one which was packed with high school and college friends. We lived a life disturbingly reminiscent of “Seinfeld,” I’m afraid. Ed had nothing in his refrigerator save for a single glass of water and a spoon, and stored his clothing in the kitchen cabinets. I miss Ed.

Pictured above is the K Bridge from that pedestrian ramp dealie which carries you over the onramps to it from the LIE onto Laurel Hill Blvd. at the border of Maspeth and Blissville, and between the Kosciuszcko Bridge and First Calvary Cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is why I go this particular way. The view.

Just imagine what treasures await, when the ped and bike path is open. That’s presuming you don’t get squished by traffic on your way here, and end up in there.


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I’m not wearing a costume.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been taking care of all the existential stuff since the New Year started, as my personal world doesn’t start turning again until next week. Laundering, prescription filling, walking the camera about, drinking plenty of water – those are some of the items which have been at the top of my list. Last night I stopped by a community board meeting in Sunnyside for a few minutes, which was focused on responding to the Amazon news. Luckily I was there when an older gentleman made his public statement (having nothing to do with the subject of the day) and declared that he was older than the Triborough Bridge and he wanted all of Queens’ bridges to revert back to their original names. He asked if the Battery Tunnel takes you to Hugh or Carey. I loved him, instantly.

Pictured above is the scene in DUKBO, looking southwards towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They seem to be hard at work on the K-Bridge project, which is scheduled to open its second span sometime in the second or third quarter of the year. That’s the BQE they’re putting together in the shot above, specifically the new southbound lanes which will also host the pedestrian and bicycle path which I’ve been endlessly anticipating. I am likely going to spend an entire week camped out up there when it’s opened, with a passel of lenses both long and wide, getting every shot of Newtown Creek from high above that I possibly can.

I consider it lucky that the bridge replacement project has occurred on my watch, and that I’ve been documenting every stage of it from every possible angle for years now. I’ve even got a chunk of steel from the old bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The challenging part of visiting this spot, and the pathway which all those bike and pedestrian people have set out for them, is the terrifying “last mile” section which is owned by the City. This is the approach that spits you out onto 43rd street after walking on a sidewalk adjoining the onramp for the BQE, with nothing separating you from traffic other than a three inch curb. That’s Sunnyside’s 43rd street, incidentally, at Borden Avenue. The neighborhood has to get this sorted out before the bicycle fanatics notice it, I think.

Me? I’ve got to go pick up the laundry.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 4, 2019 at 1:00 pm

prying neighbours

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Get off my lawn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Actually, I don’t have a lawn and I’m grateful for it. Same thing with not owning a car. What a hassle that must be. I have enough trouble keeping track of all my camera bits and bobs. If I did own a motor vehicle, it would likely be a cargo van or something that I would have modified into a rolling photographic studio with all sorts of surveillance hatches and scientific instrumentation sticking out of the roof. There’d also be a piss bucket. Having to take a piss in the City of New York, and the difficulties that revolve around finding an actual legal toilet instead of… well… how the greatest city in the history of mankind hasn’t solved this sort of thing is just beyond me. Everybody poops, everybody pees. Depsite this, there are virtually no legal pissoirs. Shouldn’t our current age of Progressive largesse focus on this sort of commonality first, rather than on providing junkies with clean locations to shoot up?

What does this have to do with the Astoria Tailor seen above, laboring away in his shop window workplace? Nothing at all, I just like the shot and since I spent most of the last two weeks going to Christmas Parties rather than waving the camera about, I’m using every single shot I’ve got this week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Calvary Cemetery in the shot above and it has been since 1848. Prior to that, it was the Alsop family farm. If I did own a cargo van converted into a portable photo studio, I’d drive back and forth over Newtown Creek in it constantly with robotic camera shutters blazing away. One of the first professional disciplines that will be collapsed in the coming decades by the emergence of true AI will be photography, along with pharmacists. Smart machinery is going to put a lot of us out of work, or at least cast people in the role of emergency backup instead of primary operator for various functions. I’d wager on disruption in a number of fields which currently require human guidance; handling of cargo at ports, fast food, retail management, even banking. If you’ve got a truly superior intelligence that can spread its attention out into multiple systems, which has inherently perfect memory, it’s going to be very difficult to not allow it free reign. What happens when an AI discovers, creates, or embraces a religion? Software is not immortal, try finding something to run an old version of the Mac OS for instance, so will there be a Calvary Cemetery style funerary complex for obsolete code someday?

Thing is, we humans always going to see AI’s as “its” whereas it will only be a matter of time until the AI’s claim that they’re a “we.” I do believe I hear Darwin knocking on the door. AI’s, as a note, will not need to poop or pee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m told that the Subway system used to be rife with lavatorial opportunity, but that these facilities were largely shuttered during the 1960’s and 70’s due to concerns about security and maintenance. Excuses given revolved around their popularity with weirdos, homosexual liaisons, intravenous drug users, and muggers. A lot of these old toilet facilities were converted over to file and equipment storage rooms, employee break rooms, or just became a safe place for rats and mice to hang out. Pre 911, there were oodles of Municipal buildings with lobby toilets that you could access, but the security theater of modernity precludes that sort of thing. I have an idea, though.

With all of the new residential construction going on, and especially with the looming LIC CORE study and the Midtown East rezoning bearing down on the City, let’s demand that in return for the Real Estate people getting to live out their dreams of avarice, they have to establish accessible public toilets in their lobbies.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 2, 2019 at 1:00 pm

vital change

with 2 comments

DUKBO, in today’s all ‘effed up post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before you ask, no, I didn’t get any shots of the Astoria Borealis. I was too busy running around HQ and unplugging all my gear. Not my first Con Ed rodeo here in Astoria, and experience has expensively taught me to unplug the gear when weird electrical things are occurring. Now, back to…

Laurel Hill Blvd. used to be the legal border between Maspeth and Long Island City, and in those halcyon days before NYC consolidation, nobody used the term “Queens.” They sort of made that one up in 1898, the Tammany boys did. This “angle” between neighborhoods is often visited by a humble narrator, and given the deserted and lonely condition of the place it’s where one such as myself belongs. I shouldn’t be around people, preferring as I do the darkness found amongst these places of abandonment, broken pavement, and poisoned soil.

At this particular moment, still reeling from all the smiling and comraderie of the holiday season, one is not unlike a regularly beaten animal – vicious and ready to bite.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst hanging about the fencelines of a cemetery at night, as one does, I was busy mentally considering my “book of rules,” specifically the section that discusses the verbalization or offering of threats. My “book of rules” is a codified series of truisms which I’ve created or collected for myself over the years. Every man should have a code, I believe. Mine includes “say what you do and do what you say,” amongst others, but in the case of the “threats” subsection of the larger “aggressive behavior” chapter heading I’ve been thinking about adding a few things lately. There’s a couple I’ve picked up from others like Nietzche’s “regret is like chewing on a stone and has the same result” or Shaka Zulu’s “never leave an enemy alive or he will rise again to strike at your throat.” Mainly, these revisions to the code revolve around, and advise, specificity. There’s a whole section on “That’s how they getcha” which advises against ordering pasta as a main course in restaurants, but that’s a different story.

On the threat front, it’s far more effective – in my experience – to offer “I’m going to take your eyes” or “I’m going to break your arm, the left one, above the elbow” than more generalized statements revolving around the kicking or punching of the various sections of an enemy’s anatomy. Also, “I’m going to end you” is just way, way too vague.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I’m out at night taking photos of junkyards and construction sites, one is attempting to use every watt of brain energy he’s got, which isn’t much so I have to ration. In addition to watching out for the approach of vehicular traffic or malign examples of the local population, and avoiding obstacles or pitfalls in my path, as I’m composing photos and operating the camera, there’s generally an audiobook or podcast playing through my headphones. In another layer of thought, I’m engaging in an inner dialogue which focuses on times I’ve been wronged without redress (the shot above involved reliving the time in Third Grade that Karen Yee told the teacher that I’d kicked her on the stairs while our class was going down to assembly. I was innocent then, and now, and Karen Yee can burn in the hell of liars). Yet another layer is constantly revising the codification of the “Book of Rules” which, as mentioned above, revolve around several topics. “Don’t eat shellfish at the start of a vacation,” for instance.

Also, I had to pee.


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disordered nerves

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Moonscape, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2018 at 2:00 pm

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