The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Degnon Terminal

threadbare accoutrement

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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.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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.

pillars and niches

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

You might recall, Lords and Ladies of Newtown, that back on December 11th of 2010 the 100th anniversary of the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was commemorated by the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission and that I was one of the two Parade Marshalls for the celebration.

There were a few postings about the bridge found here, at your Newtown Pentacle, which detailed the storied history of the structure and it’s environs. Additionally, more than once has the Degnon Terminal been mentioned in prior posts, and appropriately so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also mentioned in prior postings (parts one and two), the Newtown Creek Alliance had tasked a small group of it’s members (myself included) with attempting a photographic catalogue of the bulkheads of Newtown Creek and it’s smaller tributaries. Noble in it’s aspirations and massive in capability and resources, Riverkeeper sent a vessel and captain from it’s vast fleet to shepherd us through these very murky waters. These shots were captured from a small launch boat capable of crossing both low ceilings and containment booms which was little more than rowboat with an outboard motor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Beneath the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, the waters of the long neglected industrial canal called Dutch Kills have been silting up with the worst sort of filth for decades, knowing not the presence of dredging or channel depth engineering. Here, the sediments pile up and erupt from the water.

The only flow of water here comes from rain and sewage, this is a stagnant and forbidding place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is only a trickle of dry weather discharge dripping from this combined sewer outfall hidden away beneath the bridge. It hadn’t rained for a couple of days, but still, there was some flow. Though minor, this sort of discharge can add up to hundreds of gallons a day, carrying- for instance- the mop water that a Chinese restaurant on Broadway in Astoria might dump into the corner sewer drain nightly (yup, actual thing, observable every single day).

The reason I mention Astoria is that most of the drains on the Queens side resolve back to the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In this posting, which led up to the Hunters Point Avenue bridge event mentioned above, some logic is offered as to how to decode the DEP “SPDES” signs which are required to be displayed above CSO discharge points. Like all things government, a bizarre nomenclature and specific system of numbering applies to the CSO’s.

It took your humble narrator a little bit to dope it out, so it is offered to save you from having to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vehicle traffic was rattling by overhead on Hunters Point Avenue, and we observed the surprisingly good condition of the bridge anchorages. Notice the extreme high tide line of encrusted sediment lining the structural elements of the bridge. It would interesting to know what sort of organisms exist in that slime and residue, and what they could tell us about the true nature of the water here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bubbles of mephitic gas which had been been popping all around the boat since we entered Dutch Kills began to subside at this point, perhaps it is the permanent shadows beneath the LIE and the two rail bridges which allow the methane producers in the sediment to thrive. The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge’s roadway is a grate which allows quite a lot of light to filter down to the surface.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It must be admitted that long have I desired to see what might be hiding down here, and observe the understructure of this bridge. As it might be guessed, your humble narrator is a bit of an infrastructure geek, and the lesser bridges of New York City often surprise the observer.

This used to be a double leaf bascule, you see, whose mechanism was replaced in relative modernity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot is from the December 11th Centennial event and shows the other more easterly orientated shoreline, where the bascule hinge and bridge house are located, showing the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge in an open position. The spot I shot it from was the abutment seen in the prior shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills is a straightaway and engineered canal with a widened terminus, and the term for it is a “turning basin”. Overall, it’s shaped like a giant letter “T”. Heavy industrial concerns all around Dutch Kills built and maintained docks with which they could transfer materials which came to them by barge to rail (and truck, but rail was the key), and then to factory floor for processing. The manufactured product of these industries not destined for the local market would also then be shipped out via these docks.

Today, nothing much happens on the waters of Dutch Kills, and nearly all of the rail infrastructure is relict and abandoned- or purposed solely for passenger service to and from Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The benefits, costs, and upkeep of an intermodal transportation hub like this are massive. Unfortunately, most of the modern business in the area is oriented toward an automobile and truck culture rather than to the locomotive or maritime city, and thse docks are abandoned and rotted away. The once mighty rail lines are interrupted or orphaned, and the great factories which they once supplied are either empty, used for warehousing, or carved up into a hundred smaller spaces.

Where titans once thrived, ants now scratch by.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow, the Dutch Kills turning basin at this… Your Newtown Pentacle.

ethereal character

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The launch we were in had been referred to as the “tin boat” by the Riverkeeper folks, but it was more a smallish rowboat with an outboard engine than anything else. This is the second post of this adventure, click here for the first one.

We had just passed beneath the two rail bridges which vouchsafe and isolate Dutch Kills from the main body of the Newtown Creek, and were heading in the general direction of Queens Plaza when we approached the Borden Avenue Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, this century old structure has recently undergone a radical schedule of repairs when it was discovered that one of its abutments had begun to shift, and no small amount of complaint arose at the inconvenience from the legions of truckers and ordinary drivers who mourned its unavailability.

Down on the water however, things were pretty intense, from a purely existential point of view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Those bubbles of gas mentioned in yesterday’s post, which were erupting even when the water was unmolested by our passing, delivered a slightly petrochemical smell when they burst. Another member of the Newtown Creek Alliance who was sitting next to me in the boat began muttering “Oh my god” over and over at this point in time.

It wasn’t fear in his eyes, it was disbelief.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My companion was no virgin or first time visitor to the Creek, of course, in fact his experience of the place is broad and far reaching. When all of your senses get involved with the atmosphere of ruination here, however, one tends to become a bit overwhelmed as your brain attempts to interpret and process the impossible data it is presented with.

The canalized bulkheads of Dutch Kills also tower over you from the water level, creating a sense of forced perspective and inevitability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first thing you see when passing the Borden Avenue Bridge is an archaic sewer outfall, and were the brush not at it’s mid summer height, one would observe the shanty home of the Blue Crow above.

For those of you not familiar with this term, Crow is a name assigned in my little section of Astoria to the myriad metal and refuse collectors known to haunt the neighborhood on “Bulk Pickup Day”. Leave something shiny on the sidewalk, a crow will sweep in and grab it.

Metals are collected and sold by the pound in the scrap and recycling markets of Greenpoint and Long Island City, and these guys make their living from hunting and gathering. I assign them color names based on vehicle, or clothing choices.

There’s also a red crow out there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here is a winter shot from road grade level which shows the sewer and the ever expanding hut of this particular crow. There is a photo of him to be in this Newtown Pentacle posting from February of 2010. Don’t be mistaken, I am not insulting either his industriousness or tenacity, if I were in a similar situation things would go far worse for your humble narrator. This man has been surviving in what has to one of the world’s most extreme environments for years now, and rent free.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking back toward the Borden Avenue Bridge, the ominous humming which echoed along the bulkheads and emanated from above signaled that we had passed under another of the bridges of Dutch Kills. This bridge was built high, and called an expressway by Robert Moses himself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some 106 feet over road grade, the high flying Queens Midtown Expressway leg of the larger Long Island Expressway feeds into the yawning mouth of the Queens Midtown Tunnel less than a mile from here. I call this part of Dutch Kills DULIE, or Down Under the Long Island Expressway.

One of the common complaints heard by eastern bound commuters in the early days of the 20th century was about the horrible smells they encountered when crossing through Long Island City. Moses built his auto bridge as high as engineering and budgetary considerations allowed in response to the plume of industrial outgassing which distinguished a trip through the area in his time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills is a particularly important tributary of the Newtown Creek, from an industrial history point of view. What is today a relict of brown fields, industrial spills, and toxic leave behinds was once the economic and manufacturing heartland of New York City. The heavy infrastructure here is no accident, and the waterway was a critical feature that drew one of the great (and largely forgotten) men of Queens to the Waste Meadows at the start of the early 20th century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of the 19th century, none of this was here. Sure, there was a muddy road made of creosoted wood blocks and riprap bulkheads called Hunters Point Avenue which ran between isolated industrial sites, and a slightly more modern causeway called Borden Avenue which hosted a few large operations, but this was a swampy and pestilential bog. Brackish creeks wound along knolls of marsh grass and the stubby trees held together mud islands.

The place was lousy with all the junk floating down from Blissville and the sewers in Brooklyn and only Mosquitos and ticks found the place hospitable.

Dutch Kills needed to be fixed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another sewer outfall is found directly after passing the LIE’s massive footing, which is the sort of improvement that benefited somewhere else rather than Dutch Kills. It was decided by the city fathers in the first years of the 20th century that something had to be done with these swampy wetlands, so close to Manhattan and the gold coast of the Newtown Creek.

Something was needed- a plan with vision, executed by someone who understood the byzantine politics of Tammany Hall and the recently consolidated City of Greater New York. Additionally, it would have to someone with proven “know how” who could “get it done”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the mid 1930’s on, that person would have been Robert Moses. The ultimate political fixer, Moses employed the greatest engineering minds of a generation to shape and design our modern City. While Moses was still in diapers, however, no shortage of great men existed in the City. A plan was presented, and approved, and in both Albany and Washington- strings were pulled by the Tammany men and budgets were approved.

The Army Corps of Engineers were assigned here to canalize, deepen, straighten and erect industrial bulkheads at Dutch Kills in 1914. Land was reclaimed by dumping the fill and spoils produced by the digging of the Belmont Subway Tunnels (leading to to Manhattan) amongst wooden pilings driven deeply into the mud.

The modern shoreline of Queens began to assume it’s current shape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is apparent what happened here, when you see the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge appear before you.

Progress had arrived in Queens, and his name was Michael Degnon.

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