The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Degnon Terminal

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Degnon Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me at least, this is the most well rested I’ve been in years. I’ve been sleeping a solid eight to nine hours a day, and soundly at that. There’s no competition for sleep, of course, with all the bars and other centers of night life fun closed. Days (or nights, actually) when I’m out for a long walk, as on the evening when these shots were gathered, find me sleeping especially soundly given the physical exercise associated with the endeavor. Given that I fundamentally have no paying work or job at the moment, and there’s no particular reason for me to be up and about at a specific time, I’ve barely even been setting or using an alarm clock.

Hey, I’m broke, but at least I’m still breathing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The section of Long Island City these shots were gathered in is called the Degnon Terminal, an industrial park created in the first and second decades of the 20th century by a real estate developer and construction magnate named Michael Degnon. This area, bounded by Skillman and Thomson Avenues on the northwest and Newtown Creek and its Dutch Kills tributary to the south, rose whole cloth from a former swampy wetland known in the 19th century as “The Waste Meadows.”

Like other industrial properties in NYC that lost their anchor tenants during the 1960’s and 70’s, the monumental factory buildings of the Degnon Terminal have had their purposes reimagined for the modern era. CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College occupies several of the former factories, whereas others have become office or warehouse space or handle small scale manufacturing such as commercial printing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One may be sleeping well, but that offers perchance for dream. Nocturnal hallucination has never been something one has particularly enjoyed, and I’m particularly interested in waking up from the fever dream in which I’m currently trapped. This one is a whopper.

It’s one where America becomes a failed state due to a fairly avoidable pandemic.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, May 18th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


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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

May 21, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Yet another bit of meeting reportage, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator seems to be on a lot of “steering committees” these days. I’ve long been associated with Newtown Creek Alliance, although we don’t have a steering committee, and contrary to what many believe – I’m not a board member. I’m the official photographer for, and steering committee member of the Working Harbor Committee. Recently, I joined the steering committee of Access Queens. I’m also a steering committee member of the Newtown Creek CAG (Community Advisory Group) for the Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek.

The CAG has a series of steering committee only meetings that occur somewhat frequently, where we review and comment on various bits of policy and announcements from the EPA and the Potentially Responsible Parties who are tasked with the scientific analysis and eventual cleanup of Newtown Creek. There’s business people, community activists, policy makers, and representatives from Riverkeeper on the Steering Committee. There’s also a gaggle of Newtown Creek Alliance people on there as well, but given our overwhelming familiarity with the situation that’s sort of a natural fit. A “general” CAG meeting occurs less frequently, but that’s going to change as we get closer to the next phase of the Superfund process, which will discuss the solution to 150 years of environmental degradation based on a nearly decade long scientific survey. General meetings are open to the public if you’re curious, click the link above to find out when the next one is scheduled. If you want to join the CAG, we have a technical advisor who can guide you through the process (which is mainly writing down your name and email in a legible manner).

A recent Community Advisory Group meeting, which was open to the full membership of the CAG (not just the steering committee) occurred at LaGuardia Community College last month on the 22nd of March.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greenpoint’s Mike Schade, who has been operating as the Co Chair of the CAG, stepped down and we voted my colleague from NCA – Will Elkins – to pick up the mantle as co chair and run with it. The other CAG co chair is Ryan Kuonen, who is chair of Greenpoint’s community board’s environmental committee.

The NYC DEP, which is one of the “potentially responsible parties” along with ExxonMobil, National Grid, Phelps Dodge, and a couple of smaller corporate players like BP and Amoco, offered a presentation to the assembly explaining the concept of “ebulition” to us. Ebulition is essentially the release of droplets or blobs of contaminants from the sediment bed up to the surface of the water, and it’s commonly observed in Newtown Creek. They showed some video of coal tar bubbling up in front of the National Grid bulkheads, which was meant to be an “a ha” moment. To the initiated, however, it’s no secret that there’s 30-40 feet of coal tar and petroleum derivates in the sediments. That’s what brought EPA to Newtown Creek in the first place. Problem is that the ugly leave behinds of industry are intermingled with human waste, which is what the DEP supplies.

Long have I used the term “Black Mayonnaise.”

Prepared by their environmental contractor, Louis Berger, the logic DEP offers in their ebultion argument is that since they aren’t responsible for the presence of petroleum or coal tar in the Creek, and that since the chemical footprint of what comes out of their “combined sewer outfalls” or “CSO’s” isn’t specifically named in the Federal CERCLA – or Superfund – legislation – the community shouldn’t be overly concerned by the raw sewage they pump into the waterway every time it rains. The presentation was offered by Dr. Eileen Mahoney, who is DEP’s Superfund manager, and Dr. Ed Garvey of Louis Berger.

Dr. Mahoney and I, it should be mentioned, aren’t exactly in love with each other and she spent most of her time menacingly glaring at me while speaking, waiting for me to speak up and challenge her assertions. She didn’t realize that my colleague Laura Hoffman was in the room, and the “Mother of Greenpoint” didn’t take kindly to DEP saying that the release of raw sewage into Newtown Creek isn’t a problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek community advisory group is actually one of the best organizations to pay attention to at the moment, superfund wise. Everybody in the room is under some sort of Federal level jurisdiction, PRP wise, and therefore the fibbing is generally kept to a minimum. Even the DEP won’t out and out lie to the Feds, as there would be hell to pay. Another thing I’ve been saying for years about the Superfund is that the most interesting parts of the story will be about NYC’s vertical silos of power slamming into the Feds. Immovable object, meet the irresistible force.

I managed to convince some of my friends from LIC and Sunnyside to come to the meeting, and get the activist community of Newtown Creek’s northern shore to begin to engage in the process by joining the CAG. There’s a perception in Queens that Newtown Creek is Brooklyn’s, and particularly Greenpoint’s, problem.

I’ve long argued that this is most definitely not the case, and I’m glad to see that others are beginning to realize it too.

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April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

silent circle

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Memorial Day weekend, despite the swelter, found me down and around Dutch Kills.

Just passing through, I was on my way to a holiday party in Greenpoint, and decided to take advantage of the deserted industrial center and get a little “artsy-fartsy” with the camera. The rainy interval recently experienced in the watershed has swollen the Dutch Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek- indeed, the entire waterway is supercharged with contaminants- due to the action of the loathsome Combined Sewer Outfalls which feed directly into the water during storm events.

from dec.ny.gov

Combined sewer systems (CSS) are sewers that are designed to collect storm water runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. During rain events, when storm water enters the sewers, the capacity of the sewer system may be exceeded and the excess effluent will be discharged directly to the receiving water. A combined sewer overflow (CSO) is the discharge from a combined sewer system that is caused by snow melt or storm water runoff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water had a large amount of floatable materials in it, and there were eddy patterns around the banks that sported pools of congealed fats and cooking oils, but that wasn’t what I was going for in these shots. Instead, I was fascinated by the shapes of the grottoes produced by the rotting bulkheads of the red white and blue structure pictured above.

Satisfied, I resumed my course toward Greenpoint.

from nyc.gov

DEP has a broad citywide effort to better manage stormwater using a variety of innovative, sustainable green infrastructure. Improved stormwater management is an important component of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative and Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan. Green infrastructure, or source controls, are a set of techniques that detain or retain stormwater runoff through capture and controlled release, infiltration into the ground, vegetative uptake and evapotranspiration thereby reducing the need for end-of-pipe stormwater storage and treatment systems.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I moved past a weed choked lot, whose every vegetative inhabitant was stained with the irrepressible “colour”, a sudden flash of motion drew my eye. Unbelievable, a monarch(?) butterfly alighted on one of the stalks and posed for a moment. Butterflies, you see, are the “canary in the coal mine” of the insect world- highly sensitive to environmental conditions and here was one right in the middle of Queens’ industrial heartlands.

from wikipedia

The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly (subfamily Danainae), in the family Nymphalidae. It is perhaps the best known of all North American butterflies. Since the 19th century, it has been found in New Zealand, and in Australia since 1871 where it is called the Wanderer.It is resident in the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira, and is found as an occasional migrant in Western Europe and a rare migrant in the United Kingdom.

Also:

June 16th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance has asked that, in my official capacity as group historian, a tour be conducted on the 16th of June- a Saturday. This walk will follow the Dutch Kills tributary, and will include a couple of guest speakers from the Alliance itself, which will provide welcome relief for tour goers from listening to me rattle on about Michael Degnon, Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason, and a bunch of bridges that no one has ever heard of.

for June 16th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally- the “Obscura Day” Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills tour proved that the efficacy and charms of the Newtown Creek’s least known tributary, with its myriad points of interest, could cause a large group to overlook my various inadequacies and failings. The folks at Atlas Obscura, which is a fantastic website worthy of your attentions (btw), have asked me to repeat the tour on the 23rd of June- also a Saturday.

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My various interests out on the sixth borough, NY Harbor, have brought me into association with the Working Harbor Committee. A member of the group’s Steering Committee- I also serve as the “official” group photographer, am chairman and principal narrator of their annual Newtown Creek Boat Tour, and occasionally speak on the microphone during other tours (mainly the Brooklyn one). This year, the group has branched out into terrestrial explorations to compliment the intense and extant schedule of boat tours, and I’m going to be leading a Kill Van Kull walking tour that should be a lot of fun.

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at MTA.info.

For June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

unutterable and unnatural

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Haunting the bridges which carry pedestrian and vehicular traffic over the Sunnyside yards, as always, your humble narrator is both frustrated and relieved at the presence of the stout steel plating which obscures the track.

Frustrated, because it makes it quite difficult to photograph and bear witness to its wonders- Relieved because the vital infrastructure of the rail yard is protected from casual “sapping”.

I, of course, know where every gap in the fencing exists that is large enough to poke a camera lens through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Yards are used not just by it’s main tenants- Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad- it also serves as temporary housing for the excess capacity of other area rail lines, such as the New Jersey Transit cars on the left hand side of the shot above. The ones on the right are Amtrak.

In the distance is that assemblage of early 20th century industrial splendor known as the Degnon Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The amazing layer cake of Western Queens is manifest in this place, where the drained swamp which became the Sunnyside Yards reveals the natural grade of the land. The tracks of the 7 Subway line hang over a viaduct which exits Queens Plaza and becomes Queens Blvd.

In the distance are the former Ever Ready Battery, American Chicle, and Sunshine Biscuits “Thousand Windows” factories which were the crown jewels of the Degnon Terminal.

another aperture

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

An aerial shot from the former Loose Wiles biscuit factory (and modern day LaGuardia Community College) which shows the totality of the Dutch Kills turning basin and the properties which surround it. Special notice of the cement factory and the red white and blue self storage warehouse should be taken, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge and Long Island Expressway (just above center) which were described in earlier posts are also pointed out. Additionally, notice the two sunken barges in the lower left hand corner of the shot.

click for parts one, two, and three of this trip down Dutch Kills. This is the last of the four postings describing what I saw at Dutch Kills while on a Newtown Creek Alliance assignment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stated mission of this exhibition was to catalog and photograph the little known bulkheads and shorelines of Newtown Creek and it’s various tributaries, and NCA had arranged for Riverkeeper to ferry us back and forth across the troubled waterway. Troubled is a politically correct way of describing the Newtown Creek watershed which native New Yorkers would translate into local patois as “all ‘effed up”, or which a military man would call “FUBAR”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Risible, the state of decay along these shorelines is startling. Dutch Kills has been largely abandoned by maritime interests, despite its once proud role as the central artery of the industrial complex called the Degnon Terminal. The corrosive affect of estuarine water upon cement and underlying steel has rotted away the manmade shorelines and bulkheads, carving away the efforts and labor of whole generations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is no reason to say the name of the corporation which occupies the red, white, and blue self storage warehouse which sits above these pilings. It is immaterial to adjure any organization in Queens, whether it be governmental or corporate, for no one cares. It is remarkable, though, that the corrosive action of the waters of Dutch Kills have so undermined the foundations of this structure that grottoes have formed amongst its pilings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Remember, this was swamp land as late as the first decade of the 19th century. When Degnon’s people began their work here, at the Waste Meadows, there was barely any solid land between Hunters Point and Blissville. The LIRR, of course, had built their tracks sturdily and have no doubt that Standard Oil had engineered their grounds with proper drainage and stout foundations- but the inland path along Dutch Kills was nearly worthless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Degnon owned a construction company which was capable of doing the impossible, and his people had a special affinity for problems involving water. They made their name during the construction of the second East River (or Williamsburg) Bridge, were involved in the taming of the Wallabout Creek, and had recently been engaged by the newly consolidated City of Greater New York to complete the rail tunnels which would link Queens to Manhattan via the novel new Subway system. Those tunnels excavated a large amount of spoils and borings, which would be used to create the very ground around Dutch Kills as “landfill”.

By the first decade of the 20th century, enough compacted landfill was here to begin pouring concrete slabs, and upon those slabs the Degnon Terminal rose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post will not cover the entire story of the Degnon Terminal. I would refer you to trainsarefun.com, and forgotten-ny for facets of the story, or suggest a visit to the Greater Astoria Historical Society for an attempt to get them to share their expertise on the subject. The tale of Michael Degnon is the stuff of scholarly dissertation. Degnon is buried in Calvary cemetery, and I suspect he rests uneasily because of what lesser men have done to his legacy.

There are two sunken fuel barges here, rusting away into history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the CSO Outfall BB-026 which vomits untreated storm water and sewage into Dutch Kills regularly, and it is one of the primary sources of water flowing into Dutch Kills. The boat began moving in a counter clockwise fashion at this point, swinging away from the 29th street address of the red, white, and blue self storage warehouse and toward the concrete factory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m unfamiliar with the role and identity of the two large pipes which are found beneath the concrete facility. The enormous slab of cement the factory is situated upon was once a rail switch, where short trip rail engines would await incoming barges. Once unloaded, these short trains would make deliveries to the industrial concerns which surrounded Dutch Kills.

Apparently, no small amount of conflict has arisen between the concrete company and environmental watchdogs over the years, but your humble narrator makes it a point of staying out of this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The concrete industry around Newtown Creek often has fingers pointed at it, but again, large industrial concerns need to be sited “somewhere” to serve the interests of Real Estate and construction. The goal of many, including myself, is to ensure that in the days following the EPA Superfund cleanup of the Creeklands is that industry still feels welcome here. White collar corporate jobs are not an option for many, which is something often forgotten by those who spend their days in air conditioned Manhattan offices imagining the future of Queens.

These dirty industries must be compelled to “clean up their act” but cannot be regulated out of business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The boat turned away from the north eastern bulkheads of the Dutch Kills Turning Basin and we explored the bulkheads of the southern abutment. Again, the waters had carved into the underpinnings of the engineered ground. More abscesses and grottoes were observed cut into the cement and the visible wood seemed spongy and softened from the action of unknowable forms of microscopic life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had to “bust a move” to conquer the deep shadows of early morning light here, as the merciless and burning thermonuclear eye of god itself was shining down unoccluded by cloud or atmosphere at this point. An external flash was attached to my trusty camera, which was “bounced” off the water. Anomalously, the green water created orange and red shadows in the reflected bursting of light.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Riverkeeper Captain who acted as our boatswain, John Lipscomb, checked his watch and announced that we had to beat a hasty retreat as the tidal actions of the East River would soon cause Dutch Kills to rise. Fearing that we might be trapped in Dutch Kills for a long interval, and having completed only a tiny fraction of our mission, Captain Lipscomb set course for the larger vessel which had launched our tiny “Tin Boat” which was docked at Whale Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The physical effects of the air and environment here were enormous, but the effort and risk of the journey were worth undertaking. Long have I desired to see Dutch Kills from water level, and to see the place as few others have.

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