The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Pickman’ Category

began negotiating

leave a comment »

A few shots from Penny Bridge, along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a busy weekend for a humble narrator, and had to show my face in public for a couple of events. Had a bit of time afterwards that was productively spent, as a photographer friend and I hit a couple of “sweet spots” along that troublesome cataract of municipal neglect called the Newtown Creek whereupon I got busy with the tripod and the clicking.

Pictured above, the Koscisuzcko Bridge project is moving along nicely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One seems to be obsessed with longish exposures of rotting piles these days, can’t tell you why. Give me a centuried mass of lumber groaning with ship worms and wood lice sticking out of the water and I’m happy.

Other people like seeing family or friends, I’ve got decaying maritime infrastructure. What can I tel you, I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking westward, towards the Shining City.

See y’all tomorrow, and check out the offer for the “Infrastructure Creek” walk I’ll be conducting on October 1st.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Advertisements

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

billious congestion

leave a comment »

Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few shots from my travels and travails over the last couple of weeks assail you today, lords and ladies. Pictured above, the NYC DEP has been working on a water main replacement project here amongst the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria for the last month or two, which has necessitated the occasional interruption of residential water service. The access, or manhole (as its called colloquially), cover which one of our municipal heroes is standing upon vouchsafes the subterrene valve which controls such service on the corner that Newtown Pentacle HQ is found on.

Who knew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That bulkhead collapse on Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary I told you about shifted one of the derelict oil barges, long abandoned, from its decades long position. That’s the black mayonnaise sediment I’m always talking about exposed to the air in the shot above. The particular day I was shooting this was a dicey one due to a heavy rainfall and high atmospheric humidity which caused my camera to malfunction. A few of the mechanical controls on the back of the thing began to “stick,” which made me nervous as heck. Luckily, after returning home and throughly cleaning the device and then leaving it wrapped in a thick and thirsty towel, everything was back to normal the next day. Whew.

Rain + humidity = bad for camera. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is seriously tired of this summer humidity crapola. I do enjoy warm weather, but not when it’s accompanied by dew points in the 70 – 80th percentiles. It’s after Labor Day, and I’m still wearing white? Gauche, I. 

That’s one of the arches of the New York Connecting Railroad leading to the Hell Gate Bridge, which is one of the defining landmarks here in Astoria. HQ is to the south of the rail aqueduct, with Astoria Blvd. with the “Ditmars side” of Astoria found to the north. The rail tracks and the Grand Central Parkway form a physical and social barrier between the two sides of the ancient village.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 21, 2018 at 1:00 pm

muffled shouting

leave a comment »

Everything in Queens has a cool story attached to it, if you care to look.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My reason for coming over to the forbidden northern coastline of Queens on this particular day was to gather a few street side shots of the NYC DEP’s Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant. I know… who dares to spend a Saturday evening walking over to the local sewer plant? One such myself, that’s who dares!

According to the NYC DEP – “The Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant went into operation in 1939 and is designed to treat 150 million gallons of wastewater a day. The plant serves approximately 850,000 residents in a drainage area of more than 15,000 acres in northwest Queens,” and “At the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant, there are four holding tanks that have the capacity to store a combined 550,000 cubic feet of sludge.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bowery Bay is the fifth largest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, and you’ll find it on Berrian Blvd. between Steinway and 45th streets in Astoria, on the forbidden northern coast of the borough of Queens. Check out that bas relief on the Art Deco building with curved walls and glass brick windows! More on that in a minute, after the sewer story. 

Long story short, by the beginning of the 20th century, NY Harbor was in essence an open sewer which was severely compromised by both industrial and biological waste. Remember, before cars there horses and oxen, and everybody and everything poops at least once a day. They used to just wash into all the sewers, which were open to the rivers and harbor. This is why the rich people lived on the central spine of Manhattan, rather than at the water’s edge where the poor people gathered in tenements. In 1909, a fellow named Dr. George Soper (who was also the guy who identified Typhoid Mary) led the first comprehensive survey of the harbor’s ecology. In 1914, Soper led the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, which released an 800 page long “Main Drainage and Sewage Disposal Works Proposed for New York City: Reports of Experts and Data Related to the Harbor” document which made recommendations about curatives. 

By 1920, a plan had been drawn up, and in 1929 the Department of Sanitation was designated as the agency which would execute it – digging sewer pipes, connecting existing drainage systems in what was now the five boroughs, and building water treatment or sewer plants. They would also do what DSNY continues to do today, but what’s now the DEP used to be part of Sanitation. Then the Great Depression came along. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

President Roosevelt created the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to jump start the national economy and put the talents of the jobless masses to work on vital infrastructure projects around the country. Hoover Dam, as well a good number of schools, libraries, parks, and post offices got built by WPA in this fashion. WPA didn’t forget about art, and made it a point of including public artworks on many of its projects. The WPA people worked with DSNY to build three new wastewater treatment plants in NY Harbor (between 1937 and 1944) – Wards Island in Manhattan, Tallman Island, and Bowery Bay in Queens. 

The bas reliefs adorning the Bowery Bay plant are by an Italian American sculptor named Cesare Stea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Bowery Bay plant sits quite low to the water, and is in fact within the current zone you’d expect to flood due to coastal storms. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy did quite a number to the place, I’m told, and if current projections about sea level rise are accurate, the DEP is going to be experiencing a lot of problems at Bowery Bay in the coming decades. 

Two of Stea’s Bas Reliefs depicting depression era wastewater workers are covered (there’s four), along with an Art Deco entranceway to the plant, by plywood. Presumptively, the structure is still being repaired from the walloping it took during Hurricane Sandy. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having hung around the more modern plant in Greenpoint has familiarized one with the shape of things, and the shot above depicts the settling tanks and high pressure air pipes which aerate the “honey” at the treatment plant. The stuff spends a bit of time in deep concrete tanks with pressurized air being forced into it from below. This causes solids to migrate downwards in the liquid column for post drainage collection, and oils and greases to migrate upwards for skimming. By modern day standards, there’s a lot left to be desired by the Bowery Bay Plant. It was designed with neighborhoods of two story homes and factories in mind, not city block sized fifty story residential towers. 

Given all the real estate activity in Western Queens in recent decades, and the sort of plans being bandied about by the powers that be in Manhattan for remaking the place in their own image… you’d think…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It just isn’t the way people think anymore, I’m afraid. 

What we’re doing, municipal plan wise, is akin to cooking a large holiday meal, not setting up the table with plates and silver wear, and just flopping the food onto the table. You then tell your family and guests to just lick it all up, and that probably next year you’ll go out and buy plates. Or at least, we will leave that to the next Mayor to deal with. 

Dr. George Soper would probably be angry, if he hadn’t died in 1948.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm

slouching suggestively

leave a comment »

Astoria’s Luyster Creek. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, one decided to stay in Astoria rather than trek over to Newtown Creek in pursuit of some photos. Funnily enough, HQ is roughly equidistant between the southern border of Western Queens – Newtown Creek – and the Northern – Bowery Bay. Luyster, or Steinway, Creek is accessible from the street in only one spot that I’ve ever been able to find. It’s a tributary, essentially, of Bowery Bay. Bowery Bay is a section of the water heading eastwards of the East River which splashes up against Astoria’s northern coastline, and which moistens Rikers Island and LaGuardia Airport. Eventually, you hit an invisible line analogous to East Elmhurst and then you’re in Flushing Bay. 

Like Newtown Creek, Luyster Creek is highly contaminated by a variety of “point sources” revolving around industry and municipal sewer outfalls. Unlike Newtown Creek – Luyster Creek doesn’t have any community groups of concerned citizens, or alliances devoted to “reveal, restore, revitalize” looking after it. Oddly enough, Luyster Creek also sits square in the district of the Chair of the City Council’s environmental committee who has never mentioned it, but there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I like to come by here about once or twice a year to check up on things. The illegal dumping along its shoreline is generally of the light industrial type – last Saturday there were a few dozen rolls of roofing tar paper, rotting insulation panels, and somebody had decided to drop off a bunch of building scaffold sections along the shore as well. Access is limited to the waterway, and these shots were accomplished while standing on top of a combined sewer outfall. 

There were quite a few critters doing their thing down at Luyster Creek just before sunset, birds and such. The water was also positively boiling with icthyan activity. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That floatables boom you see in the shot above is because of me, since the last time I was down here there was a stream of oil pouring into the water from a privately owned sewer hidden behind those piles and I made a call to one of my Newtown Creek contacts who works for a state agency that polices such matters. The garbage piled up behind it will presumptively be collected by a skimmer boat at some point. It just pisses one off that such citizen action is required in Astoria, where, as mentioned, the City Councilman directly responsible for overseeing environmental matters is based. Additionally, the City Department of Environmental Protection – or DEP – has its Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant based just a few blocks away. You’d think… Well… lessons learned on Newtown Creek, and the world only makes sense when you force it to do so.

I guess this means I’m going to have to start thinking a lot more about Luyster Creek in the coming years. 


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

peculiar kind

with 2 comments

Back in session, your Newtown Pentacle is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, the humanity and the carnage! Happy Rosh Hashanah to all of you heathens out there, and a short holiday post arrives in your inboxes today. I’ve had quite a last week, and think I may have managed to piss off everybody encountered. It’s what I do, I guess.

Currently, there’s a large group of bicycle enthusiasts angry at me for describing their tactic of waiting for somebody to get killed and then rallying for more bike lanes while acting like buzzards circling a highway and looking for more roadkill. They’re nice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Taxi people also don’t like me. I personally don’t care that their dying industry has been disrupted by better versions of “for hire” cars. I’ve never had an Uber or Lyft driver refuse to go to Queens, or say they won’t take me to industrial Maspeth from Astoria, and even though I’m sure that the venture capitalists running both of these services are eaters of roasted baby flesh in their off time – when I need a ride on a rainy night, I don’t find myself standing in the middle of nowhere as cab after cab rejects a street hail so that they can get back to Manhattan or the airports.

Google up who owns the majority of the medallions issued by TLC, and you’ll discover a less than salubrious bunch of millionaires whose exploitation of their work force would curl the mustache hair of any 19th century robber baron.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The government people are annoyed by me as well, for the constant pointing out of their shortcomings.

Hey, you don’t run a blog about NYC without the intention of complaining, right?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

popularly linked

with 2 comments

Texting while driving?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a break this week, and single images will be greeting you sans the verbose drivel they’re normally accompanied by. It’s a rather busy week that I have ahead of me, but look for a strange old man wandering about the concrete devastations of the Newtown Creek with a camera. That’ll likely be me.


Tours and Events


Dutch Kills Dérive. Free!
Saturday, September 8, 2018, 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM with Flux Factory

Drowning in our own muck and mire, modern society must transmute its existence into that of an allegorical baptism in order to emerge a society of water protectors. The historic facts of exactly how our civilization has transformed the historic Dutch Kill waterway into a sewershed will act as both a numbing analgesic and a point of illumination. Tickets here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 7, 2018 at 11:00 am

malignity expressed

with one comment

Nighted travels on the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, I described the… nana nana nana Bat Boat!…. excursion I joined in with that my pals at Newtown Creek Alliance and NYC Audubon had organized which saw some three dozen bat enthusiasts take to the water in search of the children of the night. Today, here’s a few shots I cracked out on the way back to the North Brooklyn Boat Club dock in Greenpoint found alongside the Puslaski Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the “operating the camera” POV, these were actually kind of difficult shots to gather. It was crazy dark, as there aren’t many light sources directed at the water, and when there are they’re explosively bright like the ones on the Kosciuszcko Bridge. Generally speaking, I was using two of my “night lenses” which offer apertures as wide as f1.8.

Shooting “wide open,” however, introduces an extremely shallow depth of field into the shots. It’s quite the endeavor to find a focal point which offers an acceptable level of sharpness to the entire shot at these settings. Things were further complicated by the fact that I was in a giant canoe with six other people who were all rowing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lot of the “shooting in the subways” stuff I do is in preparation for opportunities like this, which in the past have produced few or no usable shots. Practice, practice, practice – that’s how you get to Carnegie Hall. 

Oddly enough, for the last few weeks, I’ve found myself shooting at f1.8 in bright sunlight, with insanely fast shutter speeds like 1/6000th of a second. What can I say, I like to “mix it up.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Frequent commenter George the Atheist asked yesterday, in a comment, about the safety aspect of paddling around in Newtown Creek. I offered a short reply, but here’s the official story:

The stuff you really have to worry about are the bottom sediments, the so called “black mayonnaise” which is about 20-30 feet down. If you’re coming into contact with that, you’ve got a whole other series of problems going on which involve a lack of buoyancy and oxygen deprivation. As far as the biological activity in the water, that’s determined ultimately by the last time that it rained, and whether or not that rain has triggered the “combined sewer outfalls” to release untreated wastewater into the creek.

My pals at North Brooklyn Boat Club who were running the expedition are seriously good at their jobs, and everybody out with us were wearing life vests. Additionally, T. Willis Elkins of North Brooklyn Boat Club (and NCA project manager) is in charge of the water testing program at NCA and if he says its “Kosher” to go out paddling you can take that to the bank.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, you’d definitely want to wash up after paddling around and certainly before picking up a chunk of food and sticking it into your mouth. In my mind, you’d want to do that anytime you eat, especially after engaging in hand shaking activities with people you meet.

I hate that plague passing custom, as a note, especially when I’m doing a tour and thirty strangers all want to shake hands. One insists on touching elbows instead, if need be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As we were returning to the dock at North Brooklyn Boat Club, I whipped out a pocket flashlight and illuminated this juvenile Night Heron. The bird then proceeded to lunge at us, aiming its path at my head.

Everyone, and every thing, hates me.


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 30, 2018 at 11:00 am

%d bloggers like this: