The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Whale Creek’ Category

stupendous spectacle

with 6 comments

If you smell something, say something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In January, the new DEP Sludge Boat Hunts Point was described in this Newtown pentacle posting.

The boat’s arrival was the first part of a complicated story, and the next chapter will involve some heavy equipment arriving on the Newtown Creek in around two weeks time. According to official sources, an oft rescheduled interval of municipal dredging will begin the week of March 17th, with the intention of opening a navigational channel for the new sludge boats from the East River, all the way back to Whale Creek at the sewer plant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Concerns about odor and disposition of the materials removed from Newtown Creek have been largely dismissed by the mid level DEP personnel running the operation, although community groups like the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee (this is one of the ones I’m “with”) have asked pointed questions and demanded that odor control procedures be put in place. The municipal contractor will be DonJon towing, and they will be equipped with some sort of foam based system to cover the Black Mayonnaise sediment when it’s deposited in a barge – should it begin to afflict the residential properties on either side of the Creek with a smell or odor issue.

DEP will be releasing a document next week, for “community outreach,” as it were. The word from on high is that 311 is primed to deal with odor complaints – so if you live in LIC or Greenpoint – If you smell something, say something and call 311 to complain. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Disturbingly, our commonly held employees at DEP do not wish to detail what will happen to the materials removed from the waterway. There was some discussion about the different end destinations for it – they considered several industrial facilities practiced in the handling and disposal of toxic sludge – but there has been stony silence in response to queries about the details of the plan.

How will the material be handled, upon Newtown Creek and beyond? Will it receive primary treatment in Greenpoint or in Queens or somewhere else? If it’s going to be along the Creek that the DonJon barges are emptied and cleaned, where will that happen? How will the material be transported out of the area – by truck, barge, or rail?

Our employees in municipal government have let us know that it’s really none of our business.

This is an important issue, as when EPA begins its dredging operation for the Superfund cleanup, they will likely look at the process which DEP created for this far smaller dredging effort. More to come on this one, Lords and Ladies.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman

leave a comment »

“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday -the 26th of May- the Working Harbor Committee is producing and offering a boat tour of the Newtown Creek for any interested parties to attend. A special emphasis on the waterway’s storied history and maritime legacy will be made.

I’m going to be doing the history part, speaking in my capacity as the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and am tasked with highlighting the various points of interest encountered along the route. Anticipated to be some three hours in length, this boat tour will be delving some three miles inland, proceeding to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crossing English Kills in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maritime History of Newtown Creek is one largely forgotten in these decadent times, but even now an odd tugboat and barge might be spied making their way down the waterway on any given day. Property owners were considered to have been blessed by some of the finest industrial bulkheads in the world a mere century ago, yet many of the businesses based along the Creek today ignore this invaluable resource, allowing their waterfront property to decay and decline.

Nevertheless, a staggering amount of maritime traffic is still observed here, and towing companies such as Reinauer, K-Sea, DonJon, and Poling and Cutler are regular visitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast operations will be witnessed by those onboard, many of which are involved in the scrap metal and recyclables trade. Responsible for an enormous amount of cross harbor shipping, companies such as SimsMetal are heavily reliant on the maritime trades for their economic success.

Not all that long ago, Newtown Creek carried a greater tonnage of cargo than the entire Mississippi River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An active and thriving industrial zone in the center of New York City, from the water one can truly grasp the sheer scale of Newtown Creek’s busy waterfront. Normally hidden by high fences and obscured by street facing structures, the intensity of the Newtown Creek is laid bare before the admiring gaze of first time visitor and veteran urban explorer alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A tributary of the estuarine East River, Newtown Creek extends some 3.8 miles from its junction with the more familiar waterway, and provides demarcation for the currently undefended border of much of Brooklyn and Queens. Named to the Federal Superfund list, the Creek suffers from a history of environmental degradation and municipal neglect.

An era of great change is upon the Newtown Creek, and this trip will be one of your last chances to see it in its current form.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will see four moveable bridges, and this year will be your last chance to see the static Kosciuszko Bridge as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin as early as the Fall of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along it’s banks, great fortunes have risen.

Amongst others- Peter Cooper (BO Railroad, Canton Iron, and Cooper Union), Charles Pratt (Astral Oil, and Pratt University), and ultimately John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil)– all grew richer than the dreams of avarice in this place. Alongside them, the darkest mills of the industrial revolution- rendering plants, yeast distilleries, bone blackers, and acid factories provided tens of thousands of jobs to the immigrant populations of Brooklyn and Queens. Today- National Grid, BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, and a host of other multinational companies still maintain an enormous investment in this valuable industrial canal.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

On May 26th, Mitch shares his unique point of view and deep understanding of the past, present and future conditions of the Newtown Creek as the narrator and expedition leader for this years’ Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

Our NY Water Taxi leaves from South Street Seaport at 10 a.m. (sharp) for a three hour tour of the Newtown Creek. From the East River we’ll move into the Newtown Creek where we’ll explore explore vast amounts of maritime infrastructure, see many movable bridges and discover the very heart of the Hidden Harbor.

Limited seating available, get your tickets today.

Tickets $59, trip leaves Pier 17 at South Street Seaport at 10a.m. sharp.

We will be traveling in a comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. There will be refreshments and snacks available for purchase at the bar.

Other upcoming tours:

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

for a full listing and schedule of tours and events, click here

Things to do…

leave a comment »

– graphic from

What are you kidding, as if I wouldn’t be drawn to this like a lemming?

Can’t tell you how many emails I received this week asking if I’d be attending this event. Nate Kensinger and Sarah Nelson Wright are friends, and I think I’ve met Laura Chipley a couple of times as well. This is such a neat idea, and it will be playing out at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Nature Walk on Paidge Avenue in Greenpoint.

“The Newtown Creek Armada will be open 1-4pm on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, weather permitting.”

They’ve even posted a sample video from their testing period here.



The Newtown Creek Armada is an art installation that invites the public to explore the past, present and future of a contaminated New York City waterway. The Newtown Creek, a Superfund site bordering Brooklyn and Queens, is one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States. Visitors to The Armada will pilot a fleet of artist-made, miniature, remote-controlled boats along the surface of the Newtown Creek while documenting the hidden world of its waters using waterproof cameras and microphones.

– graphic from

Your humble narrator will not be able to attend this week’s Forgotten NY tour, unfortunately, as I’ll be conducting a Newtown Creek Tour for a group of students from Cornell. Why not spend some time with the intrepid duo of Kevin Walsh and Richard Melnick, who will be marching through DUMBO?

“Meet outside York Street IND station on Jay Street near York, DUMBO, 12 noon, Sunday, September 9th.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the dark, Belgian-blocked streets between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, commonly known asDUMBO, or “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” were transformed into a vibrant neighborhood with pricey condominiums, delis, hardware stores, pizzerias, and even gourmet chocolatiers.”

Check back on or for developing tour details.

Fee: $15.00 to GAHS members, $20.00 non-members (rain date Sept 16

RSVP to or

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally, the Working Harbor Committee is conducting a fundraiser at Pier 66 Maritime, West 26th Street & Hudson River, New York City on Wednesday the 12th of September (6 pm to 8:30 pm). All proceeds from the event will assist the Working Harbor Committee in fulfilling its mission to educate residents, visitors and youth on the vitality and importance of our working harbor and help fund its educational programs to introduce youth to opportunities in the maritime world.

The Special Honoree of the party will be Andrew Genn- Sr. Vice President, Ports & Transportation, New York City Economic Development Corporation. The award will be presented by Helena Durst, President of New York Water Taxi and Circle Line Downtown.

This will be a party, not a boat ride, it should be mentioned. A great opportunity to meet some of the movers and shakers on New York Harbor, let your hair down and have a drink or two, and it benefits a great non profit operation. Click here for tickets.

final destinations

with 3 comments

This is tomorrow, as in Sunday the 22nd. Seriously- you can count the number of seats left with one hand. If you haven’t got your tickets yet, today is probably your last chance.

Many people know about the environmental issues facing Newtown Creek, but did you know that the Creek was once the busiest waterway in North America, carrying more industrial tonnage than the entire Mississippi River?

You’ll learn much more when Working Harbor Committee’s maritime historians and harbor experts
put it all in context during a Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek Exploration.

The heart of industrial New York, Newtown Creek was home port to hundreds of tugboats (one of which is the historic WO Decker). It was also an international destination for oceangoing ships and a vast intermodal shipping and manufacturing hub that employed hundreds of thousands of people. Forming the border of Brooklyn and Queens for nearly three miles, five great cities grew rich along the Newtown Creek’s bulkheads — Greenpoint, Willamsburg, Bushwick, Long Island City and Manhattan itself. The waterway is still a vital part of the harbor and the Working Harbor Committee (WHC) is proud to present this tour as part of the celebration of their tenth anniversary year.

Mitch Waxman, a member of WHC’s steering committee and the group’s official photographer, also serves with the Newtown Creek Alliance as its group Historian. In addition to working on WHC’s boat tours of the Creek, Mitch offers a regular lineup of popular walking tours, and presents a series of well-attended slideshows for political, governmental, antiquarian, historical and school groups. His website – – chronicles his adventures along the Newtown Creek and in the greater Working Harbor.

He was recently profiled in the NY Times Metro section, check out the article here.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek Exploration.

On July 22nd, Mitch shares his unique point of view and deep understanding of the past, present and future conditions of the Newtown Creek as the narrator and expedition leader for this years Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek exploration.

Our NY Water Taxi leaves from South Street Seaport at 11 a.m. (sharp) on a three hour tour of the Newtown Creek. From the East River we’ll move into the Newtown Creek where we’ll explore explore vast amounts of maritime infrastructure, see many movable bridges and discover the very heart of the Hidden Harbor.

Limited seating available, get your tickets today.

Tickets $50, trip leaves Pier 17 at
South Street Seaport at 11a.m. sharp.

We will be traveling in a comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. There will be refreshments and snacks available for purchase at the bar.

strange corridors

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Staying current on the story of Newtown Creek involves attending a lot of meetings. Some are private, most public. Often, they came rapid fire and it feels as if every other evening is consumed. One of the many community groups which hold such gatherings is the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee. I’m a guest at this particular gathering, and as such an attempt is made to remain silent and observe the proceedings.

The group engages in a dialogue with representatives of the NYC DEP, who are offered input from community representatives regarding issues that might arise from the presence of the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.

One of these issues, as you would imagine, is the spread of odors emanating from the vast facility.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP contract with a company, called “Odor Science and Engineering”, who specialize in the detection and discovery as well as elimination of point sources for malodorous gases. Luckily, an inspection of the plant by the company was scheduled for the following week and Christine Holowacz (DEP community liaison) arranged for a few of us to accompany the effort.

Pictured above is Kate Zidar (Newtown Creek Alliance Executive Director) and Laura Hoffman (Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee), who with myself, showed up bright and early to be fitted with hard hats and vests.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were introduced to Dr. Ned Ostojic Ph.D and P.E., Odor Science & Engineering’s Vice President & Director of Engineering.

A tall and dignified fellow, Dr. Ostojic spoke with a barely detectable yet pleasant European accent and was extremely hospitable to us as he described his function at the plant. An engineer, he was tasked with not only finding the sources of odor but describing practical solutions to eliminate them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dr. Ostojic produced a device whose purpose was to combat a human perception bias called environmental adaptation. To describe it simply, the human mind filters out environmental stimuli to create a sense of “normalcy”. If you live on a noisy street, your brain filters out most of that noise and you become inured to the environmental background level. The brain functions in the same way with smell, something I know to be accurate. When I encounter the smell of the Newtown Creek, or of any sewer plant, no reaction is displayed while others openly gag.

My brain has become adapted to Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

He asked us not to make fun of the devices name, which was a “Nasal Ranger”.

It allows calibrated measurement of smell based on a concentrating chamber which lies behind an aperture dial. The dial allows ever smaller samples to be inhaled into the device, which can then be graded on a subjective and numerical scale. Good science, don’t forget, is all about measurement and objective recording. The Nasal Ranger removes personal interpretation from data records, as its operators are trained according to an empirical standard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We three accompanied Dr. Ostojic on his walk through of the plant, and his duty this day was the inspection of the settling tanks which allow sewer borne debris to drop out, or be be skimmed from, the wastewater flow before it enters those famous digester eggs which distinguish this plant and betray its location on the skyline of New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Several times has your humble narrator been allowed to enter and record the grounds of this facility, found along the Newtown Creek, but this side of things has always been off limits because of extreme danger.

One of the curious facts related to me that day was that , were one of us to slip and fall into the highly aerated water and sewage in the tanks surrounding us, the liquid would not display much buoyancy. Because of all the dissolved gas in the liquid, neither would it slow your fall much and you would plummet- as if through air- some two stories to a hard cement floor.

In no uncertain terms, I was told, you would die. This was confirmed by one of my union buddies, who works at another plant in the DEP system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is somewhere around midway through the sewage treatment process, after the larger bits of solute and debris carried in the flow have been removed. When the raw flow hits the plant, it carries wood and boxes and all sorts of garbage and debris with it. This gross matter is removed mechanically at another part of the plant. Next up is grit, which can be sand, soil, or just plain old coffee grounds. The rate of speed at which the wastewater races through the system makes even such innocuous contaminants hazardous to the works, and is removed by more specialized machines housed in separate “grit buildings”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, nothing is perfect, and the job of these settling tanks is to skim off any floatable material which has evaded prior filtration. Fats, oils, and a surprising number of cigarette butts, tampon applicators, condoms, and other floatable material is seen at the collection side of the tanks. As they are open to the air, this is one of the spots which Dr. Ostojic regularly inspects and pays a great deal of attention to. He was constantly checking his readings and observations against the prevailing winds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dr. Ostojic wasn’t alone for the inspection and was working with the fellow pictured above, who introduced himself as Gary Grumley. Mr. Grumley was working with a different detection device than Dr. Ostojic, a hydrogen sulfide detector.

Hydrogen sulfide, of course, is a colorless gas which is infamous for the fecund smell of decay commonly referred to as “rotten eggs”. Such emissions are responsible for a lot of community complaints, and are unfortunately part of the complex chemistry which accompanies the disposition of sewage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The device itself seemed sturdy, and Mr. Grumley arranged it neatly for photographing. He had begun work several hours prior to our arrival and began transmitting his findings and observations to Dr. Ostojic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A graphic map of the plant with its multitude of buildings, service areas, and zones was on Dr. Ostojic’s clipboard.

A running tally of various areas where an unexpected or intense odor was encountered had been kept, and each occurrence was registered with a numerical value or rating. We didn’t encounter anything truly horrible btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An example was offered later in the day by the DEP’s Superintendent of the Plant, Jim Pynn, of Dr. Ostojic’s contributions.

It seems that a problem had developed around the hatches leading to an underground tank, cylindrical in shape, which had been located in a rectangular shaped shaft. An onerous odor was regularly emerging from the shaft, and Dr. Ostojic was called in. He determined that as wind passed over it, a venturi was forming in the space between the cylinder and the right angled walls which suctioned the tainted air from it’s enclosure and into the open air.

Dr. Ostojic’s simple solution, adding chevrons to the sides of the tank which would abort the formation of a vortex, saved the plant a costly redesign of the affected area. The smell stayed where it was meant to, as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dr. Ostojic was gracious and quite patient with us. A loving nickname for him, which is offered with wide smiles and a wink by those who work at the plant, is “Ned the Nose”.

Usually, when one is invited to attend a meeting at an industrial site in Greenpoint, Brooklyn- with someone named Ned the Nose- the encounter seldom turns out to be as pleasant as this was.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle, we go these places so you don’t have to.


Your humble narrator will be narrating humbly at this year’s Obscura Day event on April 28th, leading a walking tour of Dutch Kills. The tour is already a third booked up, and as I’m just announcing it, grab your tickets while you can.

“Found less than one mile from the East River, Dutch Kills is home to four movable (and one fixed span) bridges, including one of only two retractible bridges remaining in New York City. Dutch Kills is considered to be the central artery of industrial Long Island City and is ringed with enormous factory buildings, titan rail yards — it’s where the industrial revolution actually happened. Bring your camera, as the tour will be revealing an incredible landscape along this section of the troubled Newtown Creek Watershed.”

For tickets and full details, click here :

%d bloggers like this: