The Newtown Pentacle

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

obviously recent

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End to end, and where your poop goes, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a view of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant over in Greenpoint, the newest and largest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants. The eight egg shaped structures which define the facility are bio digesters. What that means is that they contain cultures, in industrial amounts, of the same bacteria that the human gut carries. After undergoing several stages of filtration – mechanical, aeration, and so on – NYC’s brew of sewage and storm water is pumped into those eggs whereupon the bacteria go to work. The micro critters consume what’s left of nutrients in the “honey” (which is how the wastewater engineers of the DEP refer to the stuff) and both the digestive process and their biologies sterilize the stuff. The DEP spends a lot of time making sure that the environment inside the eggs is conducive to this biological action, which includes maintaining a constant interior temperature that matches that of the human body.

It seems that we humans have a remarkably inefficient gut, which is why we fart when consuming too much food. So too, does the sewer plant get gassy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Those four cylinders burn off the waste gases produced within the eggs, which largely take the form of Methane. As this turns the sewer plant in Greenpoint into one of the largest point sources of “greenhouse gases” in NYC, the DEP is working with the National Grid company in pursuance of harvesting the methane, which would be chemically modified a tad and added to National Grid’s “natural gas” supply and sold to customers. One is fairly familiar with both this partnership and the process, and the wheelings and dealings behind it, and it’s pretty problematic.

The alternative, however, is to do nothing and continue pumping millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Manhattan, at the corner of East 13th and Avenue D, is the Manhattan Pump House. If you’re in the City and flush a toilet anywhere south of 79th street, your “product” is coming here. I’ve been inside this structure, which plunges multiple stories down into the ground (it’s actually deeper than it is tall). All of the “flow” goes into that cylindrical structure on the left side of the facility, which is called a “surge tower.” There’s a black maelstrom visible from the catwalk, which spirals down into a pipe laid across the bottom of the East River and then eastwards deep under Greenpoint and to the plant.

So, that’s where your poop goes.


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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 24, 2019 at 1:00 pm

insidious outrages

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Wednesday’s are seldom fun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been a pretty busy couple of weeks for a humble narrator, which has seen me visiting several spots scattered around the Newtown Creek. Last week, Newtown Creek Alliance offered a lecture by NYS DEC’s Randy Austin titled “Oil Spills 101” to the public at our 520 Kingsland Avenue HQ. Well attended, the lecture is nevertheless something which I’ve experienced multiple times, so after helping out with setup and introductions, I went upstairs to the Kingsland Green Roof and set up the camera for landscape action. Unlike the failed attempt at such an endeavor described last week, this time I remembered to click all the right buttons and followed my checklist exactly.

See? I’m smart, not dumb, smart. Not like people say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, which presents here at Newtown Pentacle as a rather small image in the vertical sense, is actually a MASSIVE panorama image whose resolution would easily accommodate the pixel count needed for a five foot long print. Click through to flickr and check out the “all sizes” tab if you’re interested. I’d mention that you’d likely not want to do that if you’re on your phone right now. It’s a GIANT image.

Of late, the camera technique I’m using for panorama shots involves turning the tripod mounted camera on its side, in “portrait mode,” and then rotating the leveled tripod head around about five degrees for every exposure. The one above is composited from around thirteen individual shots stitched together. The reason for this, and why I’ve started doing pano shots this way, is that any lens distortion is usually more pronounced at the edges of the frame, and the “squarest” section of any lens is at center. I was using an ND ten stop filter on my lens as well, which means that the shot above represents about five minutes of actual elapsed time, since the ND filter allows me to do longish exposures in full daylight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A more conventional shot is above, looking over the DEP’s Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment plant property towards Greenpoint’s St. Anthony’s and the lower Manhattan skyline beyond.

Also, regarding the ludicrous plethora of ads which WordPress has been inserting into the blog – and of late into the body copy – is a state of affairs which is currently out of my control to stop. In June, I’m going to start making a few changes once the site officially turns ten years old, and one of them will involve eradicating as much of that junk as possible.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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.

quintessential loathsomeness

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Got to remember to click all the clickie things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I headed over to the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Nature Walk in Greenpoint to play around with the camera a bit. It’s a fairly controlled environment, the Nature Walk, and my desire was simply to set up the tripod and attach a certain filter to my lens in pursuance of doing long exposure daylight shots. The benefit of this particular filter, a ten stop neutral density model which is nearly as opaque as welding glass, is that it cuts the amount of light hitting the lens precipitously and allows you to leave the shutter open for long intervals. Problem with it is that you need to set up the camera in a few highly specific ways, which I normally follow a mental checklist to satisfy. If you miss a single one of those steps on the checklist, bad things happen to your images.

I spent about an hour shooting what I thought would be pretty neato keen images, but later discovered that I had skipped a critical step. Managed to get lucky with the shot above, everything else was tossed. Note to self: Don’t forget to turn off the image stabilizer on the lens when you’ve got the camera on the tripod.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as I was breaking down the rig and reinserting my gear into the bag for the walk back home, this tug showed up. I had already stowed the filter and cable release and all the other “chazzerie” but the camera was still up on the tripod. A few quick adjustments brought my settings back into accordance with “normal” shooting. Since these shots were at “normal” shooting speeds measured in fractions of a second, the image stabilizer issue didn’t screw me up.

That’s DonJon Towing’s Emily Ann, maneuvering two bucket barges into Newtown Creek and heading over to their clients at SimsMetal in Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What went wrong with the tripod long exposure shots that I had intended to gather was leaving the lens image stabilizer on, as stated. What that means is this: an image stabilizer is a bit of technology which compensates for shaky hands and moving objects that can offer up to a couple of stops of exposure compensation by wiggling the lens elements around. You’ve got one in your phone camera, so it’s not an esoteric thing. Problem is that it doesn’t sense when you’re mounted on a tripod for an exposure of thirty seconds or more, so despite the camera being stock still, the lens elements are still wiggling. This wiggling introduces blur into the image, which screws the proverbial pooch.

Human error, huh? Human, all too human.


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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.

imaginary conversation

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A public service announcement from the Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The City of Greater New York, like many of the other older North American East Coast cities, uses a combined sewer system. What that means is that sanitary waste water pipes, leading from the sort of domestic tackle pictured above, enters into an underground sewer pipe which also handles storm water. When the weather is dry, the municipal agency tasked by NYC with handling the flow (the Department of Environmental Protection or DEP) does a fairly passable job. When the weather is wet, however, things start getting ugly. A quarter inch of rain, citywide, translates into a billion gallons of storm water entering the network of pipes, junctions, and weirs hidden below the streets. This additional volume of storm water surges into the shared pipes, and the mixed up storm and sanitary water ends up having to be purged out into area waterways via open pipes. There are about 400 of these “Combined Sewer Outfalls” in NYC.

As you’d imagine, the DEP is fairly careful about handling this, and to their credit – working diligently to correct this situation. Not always willingly, of course, but they are in fact “doing something.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Massive “gray infrastructure” investments like the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment plant in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section are part of the story. Designed to handle in excess of 800 million gallons a day of what the DEP staff refers to as “honey,” this particular plant is the newest and largest of the 14 sewer plants the agency maintains. If you flush a toilet anywhere in Manhattan below 79th street (and in small sections of Brooklyn and Queens), your “honey” is headed here via a pump house found on the corner of East 13th street and Avenue D on the Lower East Side. A technolological marvel, the NCWWTP is unfortunately unique in DEP’s property portfolio. The Bowery Bay plant in Astoria opened during the Great Depression in 1939 for instance, and the oldest operating plant in DEP’s system is in Jamaica, Queens which opened in 1903 (and last received an upgrade in 1943).

The stratospheric costs of upgrading their plants has caused DEP to embrace a bit of lateral thinking in recent years, which is where conservation and “green infrastructure” come in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Green infrastructure takes several forms. There’s what the DEP used to call “bio swales” which a clever Deputy Commissioner has recently rebranded as “rain gardens.” This program will, when you put together all of the rain gardens citywide, have opened up a fairly large acreage of open soil for storm water to enter the ground via, rather than dancing along the concrete until finding a storm drain. The emerging technology and policy that they’re still figuring out are “green roofs.” The problem with retrofitting old structures for green roofs is that more often than not, the roof is structurally the weakest section of a building. The other problem is convincing building owners that there’s a benefit in spending time and treasure on them. 

A humble narrator is a back room conversation kind of fellow, and the ears I’ve been whispering in for the last few years have been filled with this crazy idea of creating a municipal code requirement – in the same way NYC requires fire stairs and suppression systems, lights on the front of your house, sidewalks of a certain size and specification and so on – for storm water neutrality in new construction. I’ve been told it’s up to DEP to request codifying it, as it’s not up to City Planning or anybody on that side of City Hall. The Real Estate Industrial Complex people I’ve mentioned this to are generally into it, as a green roof would be a saleable amenity which would enhance their offerings and wouldn’t increase their construction costs noticeably.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

brief note

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Fog? Rain? Newtown Creek at night? Yep, that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday last, one was just itching to get out of HQ and go shoot some pix. Unfortunately, the soaking rain that permeated the daylight hours precluded this sort of pursuit, so around eight o’clock when the storm had transitioned from precipitation to a precipitating mist – one headed out for Greenpoint with the night kit and got busy.

My first stop was at the hidden cul de sac formed by the terminus of Kingsland Avenue and North Henry street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a minor tributary of Newtown Creek found here, which is called “unnamed canal” on navigational maps. My colleague Will Elkins (project manager at Newtown Creek Alliance) prefers the friendlier sounding “no-name canal.” There’s a defunct DSNY marine transfer station here, and the point of view it offers looks across the main body of Newtown Creek towards Long Island City and the Sapphire Megalith.

The rain had decayed into what my Grandmother would have described as a “shpickle” by this point, with occasional droplets forming out of the fog and hitting the water. The air temperature was quite warm, atypical for this time of year in fact, and since the waters of the Newtown Creek are still at near freezing – there was quite a bit of mist in the air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My decided upon path would carry me eastwards along the Newtown Creek, from the area I call DUGABO (Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp) which is where you’ll find the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant pictured above, to the one which I have assigned the name DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp). It was serendipity that the cool atmospherics coincided with a Sunday – the one night of the week when the 24/7 industrial and trucking activity along the Creek is at low ebb.

Nevertheless – I had one of those reflective “construction guy” safety vests on, worn over the filthy black raincoat, as I headed towards into darkness towards DUMABO.


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eleventh hour

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It remains National Creme Brulee Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We’re breaking with normal Newtown Pentacle tradition today, as there were multiple posts sent your way, devoted to the seismic events on Newtown Creek which saw the central truss of the Kosciuszcko Bridge first lowered and then carted away. This second post carries some proper shots of the lowering action. In this morning’s post, a time lapse video of the lowering of the Kosciuszcko Bridge’s central truss was offered. This afternoon’s carried everything else I shot.

Here’s the last one, showing the Kosciuszcko Bridge exiting the Newtown Creek yesterday afternoon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One arrived early to the Newtown Creek from “Point A” in Astoria, this time situating myself at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk. While I was waiting for the Kosciuszcko Bridge to show up, the usual maritime industrial show on the Creek was underway with a tug delivering a barge to SimsMetal. The tug cleared out, and few minutes later, the horns on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge sounded…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Thar she blows” cried a humble narrator, as the truss slid into view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier postings, there were actually two barges with a steel superstructure carrying the thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sheer scale of all of this was staggering.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the tugs, pictured above, was operating in reverse. There was a second tug on the other side of the truss, and a third accompanying them. The two directly towing the barges were of the “push boat” typology.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as with the lowering procedure, a crowd of people had gathered to watch and photograph the operation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The barges with the Kosciuszcko Bridge truss headed west, and the Pulaski Bridge opened up to allow them egress.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The third tug got involved when they were about to enter the draw of the Pulaski, maneuvering the assemblage into optimal position and centering it in the channel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So ended the seventy eight years that this structure has been on Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was built as the New Meeker Avenue Bridge, and formally opened on August 23, 1939. A year later, in 1940, it was renamed Kosciuszcko Bridge to honor the large Polish community found in Maspeth and in Greenpoint. The barges carried the truss out onto the East River, and off to New Jersey where its steel would be harvested for recycling.

The end of an era for the Newtown Creek, and it all occurred on the 25th and 26th of July in 2017.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Most recently – 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, and a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Lastly, here’s some night shots from early July of 2017.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Saturday August 5th, 11 a.m. – 1;30 p.m.

Century old movable bridges, the remains of a 19th century highway between Brooklyn and Queens, and explore two of the lesser known tributaries of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. For the vulgarly curious, Conrad Wissell’s Dead Animal and Night Soil wharf will be seen and described, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.


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discovered peculiarities

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One says it all the time – “you never know what you’re going to see along the lugubrious Newtown Creek, so bring your camera.” Last week, I was attending an event at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Nature Walk in Greenpoint when something surprising occurred.

As a note, not sure if my friend’s project is “public” yet, but when it is I’ll share links with you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It wasn’t surprising to see a tugboat at Newtown Creek. It’s still a quite busy maritime industrial waterway, although it’s a shadow of itself compared to a century ago during the First World War when more cargo (by tonnage) than the entire Mississippi River moved along its contaminant stained bulkheads.

What was surprising is what’s intruding on the shot above, in the lower left hand corner. That’s a fishing pole.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some fellow rode up on his bike and began assembling his angling equipment, while I was at the Nature Walk. He dropped a hook and lure into the waters of Whale Creek, where the sludge boats dock, and began wiggling his line around. I had a brief chat with him – nice guy – and he assured me that he was “catch and release” fishing and wouldn’t dream of eating anything caught in NYC’s waters.

Then his line went taught and he began to engage the fishing rod’s reel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a striped bass which he pulled up out of the Whale Creek tributary of Newtown Creek. Whale Creek adjoins and is entirely contained by the largest and the newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, and as mentioned above, is where the so called Honey (or sludge) Boats dock, and where they load up the treated and concentrated sewer sludge. There’s also a combined sewer outfall at Whale Creek, which is odd as it’s on the grounds of a sewer plant, but that’s the DEP for you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sport fishing, or “catch and release” as its called, is something I have absolutely no problem with. Saying that, one of the folks also attending the event at the Nature Walk was offended and offered “why harm and annoy such a magnificent animal?” I’d say the same thing if somebody was dropping hooks out of trees for raccoons, but maybe that’s my terrestrial mammal privilege at work. The good news is that there are foot and a half long fish swimming around in freaking Newtown Creek.

Guess that the offended person should have been offered a trigger warning that the real world had been entered, and that fishermen and hunters are amongst the most avid environmental and conservation minded folks you can find. This particular kvetch is well known to me, incidentally, so I can tell you in advance that attempting to offer a particular observation or logic conflicting with their own would have returned naught but a stony glance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can report that the fish, a striped bass incidentally, would likely have agreed with this very sensitive person who frequently annoys me. The blood was coming from the hook, which the angler pried out before releasing the critter back into the waters of Newtown Creek. Fish heal pretty quickly, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has said it before, and will say it again: “you never know what you’re going to see along the lugubrious Newtown Creek, so bring your camera.”


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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