The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant’ Category

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Creek Week concludes, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project pictured above, with the 1939 Robert Moses model bridge providing a backdrop to the under construction cable stay model. That’s the Brooklyn side, for the curious. This is a $1.2 billion replacement effort, “fast tracked” by Governor Cuomo, which is intended to replace what’s considered to be the most dangerous bridge in New York State – which happens to carry hundreds of thousands of vehicle trips a day as the Brooklyn Queens Expressway runs across its 2.1 mile long structure (along with its approaches).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were captured while onboard a NY Water Taxi hired for the evening by the Open House NY organization, and my colleague T. Willis Elkins and I were onboard to represent Newtown Creek Alliance and narrate to two sold out crowds. The second trip was heading back out from the Newtown Creek towards the East River just as sunset was occurring, and as always – Newtown Creek was and is a visual spectacular.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been trying to capture as many angles and shots as possible of the old Kosciuszcko Bridge for a couple of years now, simply because within the next 24-36 months it will have been eradicated from common memory.

This whole “Newtown Creek Historian” business isn’t just about revealing the past, it’s about leaving behind a visual record for those who haven’t been born yet about what the place looked like during its superfund and early 21st century transformational period.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve mentioned it before, but the plan which the State DOT has put forward is that once the eastern side of the new bridge is complete, they are going to reroute the BQE onto it. Then, they’re going to demolish the 1939 model, and in its footprint, build the western section of the new cable stay bridge. The great news about that is that there is going to be a pedestrian and bicycle path on the western side of the bridge.

One looks forward to walking the camera across, and getting aerial shots from up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was setting in the west as our NY Water Taxi navigated back towards the East River. That’s Blissville in Queens on the right hand side of the shot above, and the former location of not just Charles Pratt’s “Queens County Oil Works” but just about the very spot where the first large scale oil refinery in the United States – Abraham Gesner’s “North American Kerosene Gas Light Company” was founded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Brooklyn or Greenpoint side of Newtown Creek, the former home of the Standard Oil Company of New York and birthplace of what would be one day known as Mobil Oil is closest to the camera, which are now the ExxonMobil Greenpoint Remediation Project properties at 400 Kingsland Avenue.

Sitting on part of the former oil company properties in Greenpoint is the NYC DEP’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUGABO – or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – is the heart of petroleum country on Newtown Creek. Greenpoint Avenue heads west into Brooklyn, terminating at the East River at Transmitter Park, whereas it continues into Queens and once having crossed Queens Blvd. – it transmogrifies into Roosevelt Avenue and continues all the way out into Flushing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From a maritime industrial point of view, the DUGABO area surrounding the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is probably one of the busiest sections of Newtown Creek in the 21st century. SimsMetal and Allocco Recycling host regular tug and barge traffic, as does Metro fuel.

In the distance is the Pualski Bridge and the towers of the Shining City of Manhattan.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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From high atop Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eight anaerobic digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant in Greenpoint gather a lot of attention. At the very top of these stainless steel vessels are catwalks which connect them together into two groups of four. You’re something like 140 feet up, and the entire assembly is wrapped in blue green glass.

The shot above looks southwest, across Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On top of each of the individual eggs, you’ll find all sorts of plumbing and control mechanisms. There’s also a view port through which you can observe the bubbling sludge as its “cooked” by the biological processes within.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just for perspective, here’s a look at the things from outside the plant. The shots in today’s post were captured from the catwalk closest to the camera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually fairly challenging to shoot from the catwalks, as that green glass screws around with the camera’s light meter and sensors. There’s also reflections to deal with, which you’ll see a few of in these shots, and needless to say – the glass ain’t exactly super clean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking down at Kingsland Avenue and Allocco Recyling, over the methane jets which burn off the mephitic gas produced by the digester eggs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking towards the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, towards Blissville in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking west, over the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s grounds, towards Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another perspective on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, this time with Blissville’s former Van Iderstine property, Calvary Cemetery, and the Kosciuszcko Bridge at the Maspeth border in frame.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project is in the background, with a “green asphalt” plant and a Waste Management transfer station in the fore. That’s Newtown Creek flowing on the right side of the shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A wider view of the scene, this time you’ve got the ExxonMobil 400 Kingsland Avenue property in view as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow – Creek Week continues, but from an entirely different perspective.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Deep within the bowels of New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, I was asked to speak at a Waterfront Alliance meeting which was scheduled to occur last week in Greenpoint at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the DEP folks who manage the plant offered to bring the WA group through the facility for a tour. Of course, I’ve been through here several times, and due to my various committees and general obsession with Newtown Creek, the sewer plant is kind of a familiar place to me – but you never say no when City employees open a locked door and invite you in somewhere to take a look around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We actually got to go to a section of the plant which I’ve seldom seen, which is the generator and electrical room. Normally the plant consumes power from off the CON ED electrical grid, but during power outages and high usage periods the DEP can flip the switches that power up the plants own power turbines and fend for themselves.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP engineer conducting the tour explained that these turbines are functionally jet engines whose thrust drives the generators. There was some routine maintenance going on and we got to see what the equipment actually looks like, which was a first for me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of particular interest are the pumps and enormous pipes through which the waste water enters into the plant, pictured above. On a dry weather day, these pipes carry around 310 million gallons of the stuff. The day we were visiting with the DEP followed a terrific thunderstorm that had just rolled through the night before, and the DEP folks said that they had processed an astounding 800 million gallons of water at the plant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks down around two to three stories from a catwalk, and the gizmo framed by the yellow steel is one of the actual sewage pumps. DEP has had some issues with these pumps, supposedly a factory defect, and they are being repaired/replaced by the manufacturer. A misplaced sensor inside the pipe was forming a turbulence in the flow to form which caused the pumps to cavitate.

The cavitation, which is the sort of motion that a washing machine on spin cycle creates, was causing fastenings to work themselves loose and creating general mechanical havoc for the engineers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the screen room, where mechanical claws pull solid materials out of the wastewater flow. The smell in this area of the plant is unique – distinct from the smell of sewage, I would mention. Sewer solids smell like… the best analogy I can offer for the smell is to suggest what it tastes like when you lick the terminals of a 9 volt battery – metallic, bitter, and shocking.

More tomorrow.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

frantic note

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By gum, it’s Creek Week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one found himself at a relatively early hour over in Greenpoint at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant’s Nature Walk. I was there to meet the Waterfront Alliance board people, and speak about both the history of Newtown Creek and the things which the Newtown Creek Alliance is working on in pursuance of our goal to “reveal, restore, and revitalize” Newtown Creek.

All that notwithstanding, as is my habit, I was early and luckily enough the Vane Towing Tug Hunting Creek was transiting under the Pulaski Bridge. That gave me something to do while I was waiting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has always been a bit fidgety, a childhood habit which has never been abandoned. It’s difficult for me to “sit still” which sort of precludes me from photographing birds – which requires you to emulate stalking and hunting. Fifteen minutes with nothing to do is an interminable interval. It drives everybody who knows me crazy.

Hunting Creek was towing a fuel barge, which I later discovered, to the bulkheads of Metro Fuel in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Vane Bros.’s Hunting Creek tug is a common sight for me. I first mentioned her back in 2013, and a few different views of it making the same transit on Newtown Creek were offered in 2014.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I say it all the time – 60% of everything in life is about “showing up,” and getting there a bit early. The good news is that shortly after the Hunting Creek disappeared out of view, one entered into the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant and before the meeting started – the NYC DEP folks invited the Waterfront Alliance group on tour of the facility. That’s where the other 40% of everything happens – lucky circumstance.

More on that tomorrow – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Back in the saddle, and Brooklyn’s invisible flame, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor and some Newtown Creek Alliance business found me up on a roof in Greenpoint the other day, where a spectacular vantage point on the largest and newest of NYC’s fourteen sewage treatment plants was encountered. The POV is south by south west, for the curious, and the street upon which those tractor trailers are parked is Kingsland Avenue in a section of Greenpoint which I’ve long referred to as “DUGABO” or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

Hey, you’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate guys, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant uses its “digester eggs” to sterilize and thicken sewer water via biological process into a liquid with the consistency of honey that is commonly referred to as “sludge.” Bacterial specie are maintained within the eggs that consume nutrients within the liquid, and their particular biology results in the production of industrial levels of methane gas. Given that the bacterial population is pretty much identical to that found in the human gut, this sort of gas production is something which most of us are pretty familiar with.

Thing is, whereas we humans can fart or belch out this waste product – given the comparatively tiny amount of the stuff which the human gut produces – the sewer plant has to instead find some way of expressing the waste material which doesn’t involve explosive exhalations of mephitic gases.

Notice those four pipe shaped structures, and the distortion in the light just above them? Invisible flame.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An upcoming project which the plant’s managers are embarking upon with the National Grid company will attempt to harvest the methane as part of a “waste to energy” experiment, but for now the waste gas is simply burned off. An interesting bit of engineering is at work in the shot above. It seems that when the plant first opened, the temperature and frequency of the combustion process was producing a bright orange and blue flame reminiscent of the sort of thing you’d see on a propane grill or domestic stove. Passerby in Greenpoint and motorists on the Long Island Expressway (found on the Queens side of Newtown Creek) would regularly call 911 and report that there was a fire at the sewer plant.

DEP’s engineers “tuned” the venturi jets of the four exhaust stacks to burn invisibly instead, which I’ve been told was accomplished by regulating both the amount of oxygen within the mechanism and the amount of pressure within the gas line leading out from the eggs. The system is far from perfect, however. Area businesses report that the four stacks occasionally produce a “sonic boom” sort of noise, and create a disturbing vibration which transmits through the atmosphere and into neighboring buildings.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

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At Brooklyn’s Unamed Canal, best described as a minor tributary of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever possible, on days when I’m conducting a walking tour somewhere around the fabulous Newtown Creek, I like to get there early and scout ahead. The Creeklands are full of surprises. If it’s one of the long ones, I’ll usually try and walk the route a day or two before the event, but for the shorter ones I like to “do it on the day.”

Last Sunday, we did a relatively short one revolving around Newtown Creek Alliance’s “North Henry Street Project.” The group encountered me and my pal Mai first, and I recounted the story of oil in Greenpoint, segued into the whole “CSO” or “combined sewer outfall” situation on the Creek, then talked about the sewer plant. At the end of Kingsland Avenue and what is theoretically North Henry Street, the group was handed over to my pal Will Elkins, NCA’s Project Manager and the fellow who is in charge of this whole North Henry Street situation.

Click here for NCA’s page describing the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s why I was wandering around behind the sewer plant on Sunday morning at 9:30 in the morning. The first shot is from just three hours later, at the end of the tour when the weather had taken a dramatic turn for the better. It’s kind of lonely spot back here on Kingsland Avenue, although there’s actually quite a bit of activity – industrial wise – that happens back here.

Metro Fuel, Luna Lighting, Allocco Recycling, and a couple of others including the Department of Sanitation and the DEP are all buzzing around like busy little bees in this little cul de sac found in a part of Greenpoint which I refer to as DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The star of the show in this section of the Newtown Creek heartlands is – of course – the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and its stainless steel digester eggs. One of those digesters is going to be diverted from Municpal sewerage duty due to “Waste to Energy” project which the DEP has initiated with the National Grid company. Like a lot of “big green” projects, the devil is in the details with this thing.

The digester eggs are pretty incredible bits of technology, and purpose built. Within the eggs, the same micro organisms found within your own viscera are at work on an industrial scale. Said critters digest and sterilize the sewage sludge via biological processes. There’s a few byproducts to this process, one of which is a mephitic and combustible gas commonly called Methane.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Currently, the DEP uses some of this methane byproduct in pursuit of maintaining the temperature range required by the micro organisms within the digester eggs. The vast majority of it is burned off, however, making the plant an immense manufacturer of greenhouse gases. That’s where National Grid comes into the picture.

The National Grid people have partnered with DEP, and will be building a mechanism by which this excess Methane will be added to their own Methane Natural Gas network. Sounds great, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that sewage doesn’t have the yield for viable commercial exploitation of the gas. Accordingly, one of the eggs is either now, or soon will be, offline for sewage duty, so it can be fed “food waste.” To guarantee that no pesticide or preservatives can addle the powers of the micro organisms, a preference has been stated for organic food waste.  This organic waste is collected by trucks operated by the Department of Sanitation, which will converge from all over the City of Greater New York on Greenpoint’s hazy eastern border with Williamsburg and Bushwick. How do they know the food waste is organic? Let’s just say I know somebody in the school lunch lady Union that mentioned to me that their people were mandated to start separating food waste from the other trash recently. This mention was an angry one, as the City has provided no funds to facilitate the extra work.

The food waste will be “macerated” (chopped up), semi liquefied, and then pumped into another truck. That truck, which will be the sort of big tanker rigs you observe filling the underground tanks of gas stations, will then drive to the sewer plant and pump the stuff into the egg.

One year into the program, DEP and National Grid expect twelve of these tankers to be crossing through Greenpoint on a daily basis. They haven’t projected the number of truck trips through Greenpoint for the second year of the roll out yet. The “waste to energy” program, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of compostable organics headed to landfill, has inadvertently added hundreds if not thousands of heavy trucks a year to the already heavy flow of traffic through Greenpoint and the Creeklands as a whole.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

went wherein

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Tug Sea Lion, at Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too long ago, one found himself lurking around the Nature Walk at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant when the tug Sea Lion appeared on the languid waters of that legendary cataract of municipal neglect referred to, in hushed whispers, as the Newtown Creek.

It got me to thinking about life, and how much of the last decade I’ve spent photographing Tugs and Newtown Creek, or some combination of the two.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Constant pursuit of material examples of these two subjects has taken me to a lot of weird and interesting places over the years. I’ve met a lot of incredible people, and made quite a few friends who are also interested in both topics. The real treat has been the research, of course, and the broader story of a carefully hidden history that has appeared –  one which I’m still piecing together.

It starts with Newtown Creek, and the tendrils leading out from the waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Erie Canal? I can tie that one back to DeWitt Clinton sitting on his porch in Maspeth. Jello brand gelatin? Peter Cooper in Greenpoint. In the shot above, which depicts the Sims Metal facility in LIC’s Blissville, are three distinct subjects which I’ve ended up learning as much as I possibly can about – maritime shipping, the garbage and recycling industry, and that tall building with the green stripe on top – incidentally – is the former GEVC factory where electric cars and trucks were manufactured in LIC back in 1915 (which led to me learning about early electric vehicles).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek forced me to learn about the early petroleum industry, and to study manufactured gas plants, which led to looking at the chemical industry. Luckily, Phelps Dodge was the owner of the former General Chemical factory at the border of Blissville and Maspeth nearby Penny Bridge. The Creek has also led me into Calvary Cemetery, which forced me to learn about 19th century Irish Catholicism and has somehow resulted in me photographing the Irish Language Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on more than one occasion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek led me to study tugs, both their history and their current occupation in NY Harbor. Tugs led me to the East River Coastline of Manhattan and the vast ship building complex that existed between Corlears Hook and 23rd street. Manhattan real estate valuations in this area were so high, as early as the 1820’s, that ship yards began to relocate across the river to Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where the Federal Government established the Brooklyn Navy Yard at Wallabout Creek…

That led to reading up on Continental Iron Works, at Bushwick Inlet, where the USS Monitor and the caissons of the Brooklyn Bridge were built and launched.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All down the Queens side of the Creek, there’s rail, which forced me to learn about that one as well. That led me to the Sunnyside Yards, which Dutch Kills once flowed through, and the grist mills operated by Dutch farmers, which led me to the English takeover of New Amsterdam and its satellites, and eventually to the American Revolution. Then I had to learn about Cornwallis and Howe and their occupation of Maspeth and how their troops rowed down Newtown Creek in pursuit of General Washington, who was fighting his way north…

It goes on and on like this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody asks me when I’m going to write a book. I tell them to subscribe to this blog, as half the Newtown Creek book is already written and contained herein at this – your Newtown Pentacle. Thing is, the Newtown Creek story is so unbelievably complicated and so intrinsic to the story of not just New York – but the entire United States – that without pictures to prove what I’m saying about this waterway – you’d think I was making it all up.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, May 8th at 11 a.m. – North Henry Street Project,
with Municipal Arts Society Janeswalk and Newtown Creek Alliance,
in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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