The Newtown Pentacle

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

thaumatropically grotesque

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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

apportioned excess

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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

shaky strokes

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The Invisible Flame, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the so called “Unnamed Canal” tributary of Newtown Creek, found in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Roughly analogous to North Henry Street’s intersection with Kingsland Avenue, were North Henry’s northern terminus not enclosed entirely within the NYC DEP’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s fence line.

Directly to the west is the former DSNY Maritime Waste Transfer station, to the east is the home of Allocco Recycling. Sharp eyes will notice the Newtown Creek Alliance Living Dock project bobbing around in the water at the eastern, or left side of the shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A fairly uncommon view of the sewer plant, with its iconic stainless steel digester eggs dominating the shot. These eggs process “thickened sludge” using biological processes. What comes out of them has been effectively sterilized by the micro organisms which are cultivated and maintained within, but the process does generate several waste products along the way. Within, a material called “Struvite” collects on the hard surfaces which requires the DEP to perform maintenance at regular intervals to scrape the stuff away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another byproduct of the digester process are mephitic gases. The four Venturi jet structures you see at the left side of the image above are the exhaust pipes for the process, and the mephitic gas they are designed to handle is Methane, which is burned off. When the system first came online, the Methane flames were the characteristic bright blue turning to orange that anyone with a domestic stove is familiar with. Passerby on the Long Island Expressway who saw the flames would regularly call 911 to report a fire occurring at the plant. The DEP responded by “tuning” the speed and temperature of the Venturi structures to render the flames invisible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The largest point source of greenhouse gases on the Brooklyn side of the Newtown Creek, these jets produce an invisible flame whose only visual cue is the diffraction of light. The DEP has famously entered into a contract with the National Grid corporation, which will harvest the Methane currently being burnt off. National Grid will use the Methane to augment their “Natural Gas” network, selling it to their customers.

The Invisible Flame, btw, is an analogy used in Islamic mysticism when referring to a supranatural race of mischievous or malign spirits whom they call the Djinn. Western Europeans use the term “Demon” for the Djinn.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 29, 2015 at 1:00 pm

mystery attacks

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Just a short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, an excursion upon the fabled Newtwon Creek with the Anchor QEA folks (they’re the scientists studying the Creek for the Superfund process) and the Newtown Creek CAG Steering Committee (which I’m a member of) was cut short by threatening weather. Anchor has all sorts of frammistats onboard which warn them of the approach of lightning, and all the gizmos began to go off as a powerful thunderstorm was approaching. The shot above is from roughly 2.5 miles back from the East River, and depicts the DUGABO side of Brooklyn as the storm blew in. We made it back to dock, but not before the first curtain of rain and hail began to pummel the Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

untold agony

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Hoary Greenpoint, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, the light was spectacular over in Greenpoint, and since I seldom find myself there in the early part of the afternoon – advantage was taken. Manhattan Avenue’s tenements and apartment buildings are framed by Saint Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in the shot above. St. Anthony’s hosts both a rectory and a convent. The Church is built in the high victorian gothic style, with a 240 foot high steeple, and it laid its cornerstone back in 1873.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Linoleum signage on Manhattan Avenue, for the J. Josephs Sons Co. – a former appliance store. This is vestigial, and part of the character of the street which will shortly be cleansed by the bland homogeneity offered by the Real Estate Industrial Complex’s desire to eradicate all character from the streets of New York City in the name of lining the sidewalks with glass boxes. I cannot imagine what future generations will think.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on North Henry Street, a seldom seen point of view on the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant. This is a quite industrial spot, with a biofuel company and a recycling operation found along the bulkheads of the Newtown Creek. It’s also the “back door” to the sewer plant, where the contractors come and go.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

faint draft

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Sludge Boats, baby, Sludge Boats…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those two weeks which formed the end of November, a humble narrator was enjoying a vacation from all things with the Missus. In fact, for about half of our vacation time, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself weren’t even on the North American continent. The week of Thanksgiving, we were back, but maintained a low profile.

One thing which drew me and the camera out of our splendid seclusion, however, was the news that the NYC DEP would be holding a ceremony to christen the fleet of three new sludge boats over at their Wards Island facility. How could I resist… I mean… Sludge Boats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MV’s (municipal vehicles) Rockaway, Port Richmond, and Hunts Point have been shaking down in NY Harbor all year. Remember, back in the beginning of 2014, when a humble narrator braved the chill climes of a polar vortex at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to bring you images of Hunts Point?

You’ll say “jump” and I’ll say “how high” when the subject of Sludge Boats is at hand. Height is what these boats are designed around, incidentally. This new class of MV’s can pass under the Pulaski Bridge, spanning my beloved Newtown Creek at high tide, without requiring the drawbridge to open.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lady in the center of the shot is DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd, incidentally, with Deputy Commissioner Angella Locata to her left. I don’t know who the lady on the right is, but I led this post off with her christening the Hunts Point, so there you are.

There were lots and lots of important folks at Wards Island – brass from DEP and City Hall, Press, even a press Helicopter – as well as a whole gaggle of us from the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee. NCMC is a community group that performs citizen oversight on the multi billion dollar construction efforts at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant over in Greenpoint, and the delivery of these three new Sludge Boats are a sign that the decades long project is nearing completion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the ceremonial events were accomplished, the DEP welcomed all onboard the Hunts Point, allowing an opportunity for inspection and observation.

The Port Richmond peeled out of the dock early, probably because it had “shit to do.” Get it? Shit to do? Sludge Boat… Shit… Ahhh, nevermind. Port Richmond headed south toward the Triborough Bridge through the Hells Gate section of the estimable East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Exploration of the boat brought me to the big chair up on the bridge, and although no one would have let me start the engine and put Hunts Point through her paces, I did stand there murmuring “vroom vroom” until such time as I was asked to stop doing so. I did manage to say “make it so” and “ahead warp factor 3, Mr. Sulu” as well. One thinks that being so close to the very locus of Robert Moses’s power base on Wards Island causes odd concatenations in the thought process.

Alternatively, actually getting on a Sludge Boat after all these years simply made me giddy with delight. A big Mazel Tov goes out to the NYC DEP on the occasion of the birth of their new triplets.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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