The Newtown Pentacle

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northward pull

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Wednesday, the dusk of the week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One can affirm that the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is still there, as of last week. A small but double basculed draw bridge which spans the English Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek, Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is 3.1 miles from the East River. You don’t see much in the way of maritime traffic back here, but there’s usually a tug and fuel barge found at the Bayside fuel depot’s bulkheads.

One would advise the curious that the shoreline is crumbling, and you want to be REALLY careful anywhere near the ragged edge of the land if you don’t want to end up immersed in Newtown Creek’s most polluted section. If you’re not being careful, the dice will roll and it’s either going to be X-Man or Liver Cancer for you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A couple of old fuel trucks are permanently stationed hereabouts, which endlessly fascinate me with their late 20th century design cues and onboard signage.

The burning thermonuclear eye of god itself was dipping behind Manhattan just as I arrived at the bridge, which served as my turnaround point on this particular walk. One does not decide in advance on where the pivot takes place, but it is often considered. That’s the thing about the street grid surrounding Newtown Creek – there’s so many dead ends and cul de sacs, which aren’t a big deal when you’re in a vehicle, but if on foot you need to factor them into your route.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was when I pivoted that the roar of powerful engines was heard. Frankly, I thought that a massive nocturnal bit of construction might be afoot due to the noise which was clearly audible even with my headphones in and Black Sabbath playing. It was approaching the sound levels encountered nearby the helicopter landing pads you encounter on the east side of Manhattan.

More on the tumult tomorrow.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, September 28th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


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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.

correlated causeways

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Eleven bridges, one creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pulaski Bridge is the first span you encounter, when you’ve left the East River and embarked on a journey down the fabulous Newtown Creek. A double bascule drawbridge, and electrically powered, the Pulaski Bridge connects 11th street in Long Island City with McGuinness Blvd. to the south in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Built in 1954, the Pulaski Bridge is owned and operated by the New York City Department of Transportation or “NYC DOT.” The Pulaski Bridge carries five lanes of traffic, plus a dedicated bicycle lane and a separate pedestrian pathway. It overflies the Queens Midtown Tunnel and Long Island Expressway, as well as active railroad tracks found on Borden Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DB Cabin acts as a gatekeeper to the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. It’s a railroad swing bridge owned by the Long Island Railroad, and connects two rail yards – the Wheelspur Yard (to the west, or left in the shot above) and the Blissville Yard – across the water. Both rail yards and the bridge itself are part of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks. DB Cabin dates back to the 1890’s and is in a terrible state of repair. The swing bridge’s motors are nonfunctional, which isolates the Dutch Kills tributary from maritime traffic, and from the rest of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cabin M is just to the north of DB Cabin on Dutch Kills, and the single bascule drawbridge connects the Montauk Cutoff with the Blissville Yard mentioned above. The Montauk Cutoff is an elevated track which used to provide a connection between the LIRR’s Main Line tracks at the nearby Sunnyside Yards with the Lower Montauk tracks along the north (or Queens side) shoreline of Newtown Creek. The 2020 Capital Plan just released by the Long Island Railroad’s owner – The MTA – includes funding to demolish Cabin M.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue Bridge is owned by the NYC DOT, and is one of just two retractile bridges in NYC (the other being the Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal). Built in 1908 to replace an earlier wooden drawbridge (1868) at the intersection of Borden Avenue and Dutch Kills, Borden Avenue Bridge received extensive upgrades and structural repairs in 2010 and 2011, and had its electronic components destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Another round of repairs and upgrades began in 2019, which included asbestos abatement work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Expressway is 71 miles long, and is operationally managed in three sections. The Queens Midtown Expressway is how it’s owners, the New York State Department of Transportation, refer to the section found between the Queens Midtown Tunnel and Greenpoint Avenue in Long Island City. This section is elevated, rising to 106 feet above the waters of Dutch Kills. The LIE truss pictured above handles some 87.7 thousand daily vehicle trips, or 32 million annually, to and from Manhattan,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hunters Point Avenue Bridge is due north west of Borden Avenue Bridge and the LIE truss. It’s a single bascule drawbridge, owned by the NYC DOT. Replacing an earlier wooden draw bridge that was opened and closed by a donkey walking on a wheel, the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was built in 1910. Back then, it was a double bascule bridge, but a rebuild in the 1980’s simplified the mechanism to a single bascule. The masonry of the bridge is original to the 1910 design.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is found some 1.37 miles from Newtown Creek’s intersection with the East River, and roughly a half mile from the mouth of Dutch Kills. It’s a double bascule bridge, built in 1987, and owned and operated by the NYC DOT. There have been many Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, dating back to the first one built by Greenpoint’s town father Neziah Bliss back in 1850, but that one was called the “Blissville Bridge.” The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is a traffic machine, carrying 28.3 thousand vehicle trips a day, or about ten million a year. Most of that traffic takes the form of heavy trucking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The brand new Kosciuszko Bridge(s) replaced a 1939 vintage truss bridge that carried the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over Newtown Creek and are found some 2.1 miles from the East River. The NYS DOT is busy putting the finishing touches on the new cable stay bridge’s construction. In addition to the… ahem… high speed traffic lanes of the BQE, there is also a pedestrian and bicycle pathway found on the new Kosciuszko Bridge which connects 43rd street in Queens’s Sunnyside section with Meeker Avenue in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Grand Street Bridge is a swing bridge connecting Maspeth’s Grand Avenue in Queens with East Williamsburg/Bushwick’s Grand Street in Brooklyn. 3.1 miles back from the East River, in a section of Newtown Creek once called “White’s Dock,” the NYC DOT have recently announced plans to replace this 1909 beauty – which is actually the third bridge to occupy this spot. Damage from Hurricane Sandy, and the narrow roadways with height restrictions that the bridge offers, have pretty much sealed its fate. It will be missed.

This is where the main spur of Newtown Creek ends, as a note. Directly east is a truncated tributary called the East Branch, and another tributary called English Kills makes a hard turn to the south just before you encounter Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is a double bascule drawbridge that crosses the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and is owned by the NYC DOT. Metropolitan Avenue was originally built as a private toll road in 1813, and the first bridge here was a part of the “Williamsburg and Jamaica Turnpike.” The current Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in 1931, although it has received significant alterations in 1976, 1992, 2006, and again in 2015. The 2015 alterations?

You guessed it, Hurricane Sandy strikes again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge is the final crossing found over the waters of Newtown Creek and its tributaries. Some 3.7 miles back from the East River, it’s the property of the Long Island Railroad and used for freight service on their Bushwick Branch tracks. A truss bridge, or trestle if you must, my understanding of things are that whereas the trackway and parts of the rail bridge date back to approximately 1924… there has been quite a lot of work done on the thing which I have not been able to fully document so rather than fill in blanks with assumptions – I’m just going to say that I don’t know everything… yet.

It’s an active track, it should be mentioned.


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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.

present quarters

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No dumping allowed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in 1919, Brooklyn Union Gas moved from the Gowanus Canal to Newtown Creek, creating a 115 square acre Manufactured Gas Plant called the Vandervoort Street Facility, with a farm of cylindrical gas holders. BUG would eventually be purchased by Keyspan Energy, which would itself later be acquired by National Grid. This is where the so called “Maspeth Holders” were imploded in 2001, and the property is generally referred to – in modernity – as the “National Grid Site.” They don’t manufacture gas here anymore, instead they store and process “LNG” or Liquified Natural Gas, which is brought out of its cryogenic status through some arcane technological wizardry for pipeline delivery to the ovens and furnaces of Brooklyn.

At least a third of their property is relict, and seemingly abandoned. Along the chain link fences of Vandervoort Street, you’ll notice that they’ve allowed a small lake to form in the footprint of some long ago industrial structure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While out the other night on my “night shot” walk, mounds of dumped garbage were noticed around the edges of the small lake on the southern or Vandervoort Street side of the National Grid Site. I guess it’s their property, they can do what they want with it, but personally speaking I try not to poop on my living room carpet.

I also try not to poop where a passing photography enthusiast might notice it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were a couple of these mounds, which looked to be commensurate with what you expect to be able to pack into a medium sized truck. Not sure how long this has been here, as I haven’t wandered past this particular spot in a couple of months.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ll be sending this post over to the National Grid people and asking what’s going on here. If I get an answer from them which I can share, then you Lords and Ladies will certainly be the first to know it.

As a note, the preceding shots were handheld, breaking with the tripod ones for a hot minute,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once I turned onto Metropolitan Avenue, however, I got busy with the cable release and tripod action again.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 16, 2018 at 11:00 am

formula filled

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My creek also puts on a show when I’ve been away from her too long.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my practices, developed over the last decade or so, is to take a Newtown Creek break periodically and “allow my liver to return to a normal size.” I’m joking about the liver, but one does enjoy a bit of detox occasionally, and allowing the poisons I’ve accrued a chance to leach out. This is a luxury one enjoys, as he doesn’t live along Newtown Creek, others aren’t so lucky. Pictured above is roll on/ roll off garbage truck carrying a bin, spotted at a waste transfer station owned by a friend of mine which fairly straddles the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching along Metropolitan Avenue, one squealed with delight as the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge began to open. This used to be quite a frequent occurrence “back in the day.” These days there’s only one regular maritime customer back here on the English Kills tributary, which is Bayside Fuel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The timing of the bridge opening was bizarre, occurring at precisely the time of one of the heaviest traffic intervals in this section of North Brooklyn, about 6:30 p.m.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That odd timing, however, allowed one to stand in the middle of Metropolitan Avenue without getting squished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I believe that the tug pictured above is the Mary H., which normally handles the Bayside duty, but it’s hard to say as I didn’t get any of its markings. I did manage to focus in on the captain in his wheelhouse, however, so “win.”

As a note, the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge spans the English Kills tributary of the larger Newtown Creek at a navigational mark 3.4 miles eastwards of the East River. Metropolitan Avenue was originally created as a private toll road about 1814, and was called the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike. The owners of the toll road, and the original bridge, were two brothers whose family name was Masters. That’s why you’ll occasionally see references to the road as the “Masters Turnpike” and the “Masters Bridge” in the historical record, if like me, you stay up until 4 in the morning reading old municipal journals and reports from the Chambers of Commerce of Brooklyn or Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My conceit is to call this area of Newtown Creek surrounding the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge “DUMABO.” That’s short for “Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge,” as I believe we need to be ahead of the real estate people on these sorts of things.


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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.


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