The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Dutch Kills

modern matters

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It’s Street Children’s Day, in the Republic of Austria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek which abruptly turns north off the main channel three quarters of a mile east of the East River, is entirely contained within Long Island City. It’s crossed by five bridges – the LIRR bridges DB Cabin and Cabin M, the Borden Avenue Bridge, the Queens Midtown Expressway truss, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Dutch Kills, like all of Newtown Creek’s tributaries and the main channel itself, is lined with a toxic sediment referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.” This sediment is composed of coal tar, petroleum and refining byproducts, industrial waste of various provence and typology, as well as human excrement deposited by NYC’s open sewers.

At its northern terminus, Dutch Kills is across the street from a CUNY college and several charter schools serving high school and junior high school aged kids. One of the most significant build outs in recent real estate history is happening less than a quarter mile from that spot, along LIC’s Jackson Avenue in an area referred to as “Court Square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to a non functioning railroad swing bridge at Dutch Kill’s junction with Newtown Creek’s main channel, there is absolutely zero maritime industrial activity along the tributary. The bulkheads along its reach generally date back about a century, to a massive “improvement” conducted around the time of the First World War which saw the marshes and swamps it fed drained and both the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon Industrial Terminal constructed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets surrounding Dutch Kills offer fleeting glimpses of the waterway, and many of them are not City streets at all but “railroad access roads” owned by the MTA. You can almost always smell the waterway before you can see it, and whereas I can tell you a few spots to access the water, none of these are “legal” and all involve trespass of private or government property. You can legally observe it from the Borden Avenue or Hunters Point Avenue bridges, however.

At it’s terminus – or “turning basin,” there are two abandoned oil barges rusting and rotting away into the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Illegal dumping, the native art form of the Borough of Queens, is practiced hereabouts with relish and abandon. The DSNY garbage bin in the shot above appeared on 29th street back in November, and I’ve been watching it steadily fill up and overflow. DSNY doesn’t seem to remember where they put it, as I haven’t seen it empty since the day it arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amidst the sheens of oil and grease you’ll observe on Dutch Kills, which are both historic and newly spawned, there are what the NYC DEP would describe as “floatables.” That’s government code for garbage that’s either been flushed or has been swept into the sewer grates on every street corner in NYC. In the case of Dutch Kills, the “sewer shed” that feeds these floatables into it extends all the way to East Elmhurst and Woodside to the east, Sunnyside and Astoria to the north, and the rapidly growing Long Island City which Dutch Kills is a part of.

The sewer plant that handles this burgeoning area was opened in 1931, and Fiorello LaGuardia cut the ribbon to open it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting tomorrow, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could really use some Queensican bodies and voices in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evinced by the corpse pictured above, life has actually begun to recolonize this waterway in recent years. The presence of higher mammals hereabouts speaks to an ecosystem that is beginning to recover from centuries of industrial and municipal abuse. Of course, nothing is going to save a raccoon from getting ground into hamburger by the wheels of a semi truck.

At Newtown Creek Alliance, we’ve been cataloging and observing for a while now. There’s more than seventy individual species of birds for instance – including Great Blue Herons and Ospreys – living along the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Their presence speaks to a growing population of prey animals (fish) present in the water column, and to a broader environmental recovery happening along this industrial waterway at the literal center of NYC.


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guttural accent

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Old acquaintance be forgot, all that jazz, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last post of 2016 right here, lords and ladies, coming to you from the Empty Corridor of LIC. As y’all know, my favorite part of the concrete devastations for many years has been the splendid isolation it offered, which is getting all screwed up by real estate development. There’s so many more people around these parts than there were ten years ago… where’s a humble narrator got to go to find some solitude and listen to his HP Lovecraft audiobooks? I suppose there’s always Calvary Cemetery, but…

The Empty Corridor, I would mention, is a term of my own invention. It’s the zone of LIC found down under the Long Island Expresway – or DULIE. You’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate people, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s an MTA owned railroad access road which isn’t exactly a NYC DOT street, despite it having a “29th street” sign hanging on it. It adjoins the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, connecting Hunters Point Avenue and 47th avenue. If you send mail to one of the businesses found on this street, you can write the address as “One Dutch Kills” rather than “29th street” and it will be delivered. That’s something I learned in 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the subject of looking forward to 2017, the battle of Queens looms large. The Mayor of NYC announced, a while ago now, that he intends to deck over the titan Sunnyside Yards and build what promises to be a disastrous number of housing units there without a concurrent buildout of infrastructure. Bill de Blasio; the big little mayor, the dope from park slope, the vainglorious ideologue – he’s got another thing coming if he thinks he’s going to wreck Western Queens.

A sleeping activist giant has awoken in this borough, thanks to his homeless hotels, disingenuous neoliberalism masquerading as progressive policy, and his crass Tammany style corruption.


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glittering pinnacles

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Nothing I like better than a bleak post industrial landscape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Behind the scenes on this whole environmental cleanup thing, there’s a lot of arguing and derision. As you’d imagine, the Government people operate according to a series of byzantine rules and exceptions, as do the so called “PRP” or “Potentially Responsible Parties” who have admitted culpability, and responsibility for, cleaning up the historical mess they’ve created in Newtown Creek. The PRP’s are divided into two camps – one is a consortium of energy companies (National Grid, ExxonMobil, BP etc.) and the former copper refinery Phelps Dodge which have styled themselves as the “Newtown Creek Group” or NCG. The other is the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, which despite its name and municipal mission is actually the biggest modern polluter of the waterway itself. The DEP’s sewer plant in Greenpoint is the largest source of greenhouse gases which you’ll find in Brooklyn, accounting for more climate changing emissions than the Battery Tunnel, believe it or not.

NCG and DEP are both on the hook for paying to clean things up on the Newtown Creek, as the agreement they signed with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that defined them as PRP’s was essentially the environmental law equivalent of a plea bargain agreement. As you’d imagine, both sides are trying to point a finger at the other and trying to force them into paying a larger share of the cleanup bill.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The difference between DEP and NCG, of course, is that the latter are publicly traded corporate entities who can simply pass the cleanup costs on to their customer base. National Grid recently announced a rate hike to its customers in pursuance of this goal. DEP is funded by and is an agency of the City of New York, and is funded by water taxes. No elected official, especially the current Mayor of NYC, wants to announce that taxes are going up so DEP is fighting tooth and nail to appear as an innocent and aggrieved party despite the fact that they signed that “plea bargain” alongside the NCG admitting their culpability. DEP allows in excess of a billion gallons of untreated sewage, per annum, to enter the waterway. I wish I could give you an exact number, but that’s one of the things that everyone is arguing about. If it’s raining, at all, in NYC you’ve got (according to DEP) a 63% chance that their “CSO’s” or “combined sewer outfalls” are belching raw sewage directly into the water.

DEP has argued to the various community organizations that since “chemicals of concern,” as defined in the Superfund “CERCLA” regulations, aren’t being transported in this sewage flow that they’re not even sure why they’re part of the Superfund process. Notably, they don’t do this when EPA is in the room. Speaking as a member of a few of these community organizations, I’ve queried EPA about this, and pointed out that the sewage flow is carrying a literal shit ton of solute and floatable garbage along with it. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

2016 was a pretty disappointing year on the Newtown Creek.

The City DEP is doing everything it can to wiggle out of fixing their mess. Their solution to the billion plus gallons of sewage which carry oxygen eating bacteria into the water is to spend hundreds of millions on an aeration system, which will – in essence – act as an aquarium bubble wand for the sewage. If they get the level of dissolved oxygen in the sewage high enough, they can tell the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation that they’ve solved the problem. The fact that the aeration system will be driven by electric air pumps, which will consume energy and produce greenhouse gases? Well, they’re under an order to increase the dissolved oxygen content of the water. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection is the largest modern source of ongoing water pollution on the Newtown Creek

On the historical pollution side, NCG is talking about using different “solutions” for the various regions of the Creek, which boil down to “dredge” versus “dredge and cap” versus “cap only” scenarios for removing the sediment bed of “Black Mayonnaise” which sits 20-30 feet deep along the waterway. The Black Mayonnaise is a witches brew of petroleum byproducts, coal tar, and everything else that’s ever been deposited in the water. The top layers, which represent about the last fifty years or so, were deposited by the DEP’s sewers, but the stuff at the bottom is industrial waste and spilt products which were manufactured by and belonged to Standard Oil’s refineries, Brooklyn Union Gas’s Manufactured Gas Plant, and Phelps Dodge’s acid factory and copper refinery. ExxonMobil, BP, National Grid etc. are the modern incarnations or inheritors of the energy companies mentioned above. Phelps Dodge acts a bit like a monster hiding under some kid’s bed in a dark room, and maintains a low profile. The oil and gas people are very much present in the conversation, however.

“Dredge and cap” means that the black mayonnaise will be entirely scraped away all the way down to the actual bottom of Newtown Creek, and that a layer of clay and “rip rap” (rocks) will be laid down to seal the bottom off from the water column.” “Cap only” means that the clay and rip rap will be installed OVER the sediment bed, which is a far cheaper scenario. NCG seems to be leaning towards the latter scenario for the extant tributaries like LIC’s Dutch Kills (pictured above), Maspeth Creek, and the East Branch in Ridgewood. This solution is quite a bit cheaper and easier to enact than the dredging one, which is why they’re pushing it, while dressing the plan up as “shoreline reconstruction” and “environmental restoration” in the name of palatability to people like me and my pals at Newtown Creek Alliance.

As mentioned, not a great year on the Newtown Creek.

All sides are offering carrots. I’m fashioning sticks, for use in 2017.


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lurking place

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It’s all so exciting, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The funny thing, for me and perhaps for you, is that today and tomorrow’s posts aren’t the ones I originally intended to present. There are two perfectly fine posts in the unpublished folder which are completely written and formatted and ready to go, but for some reason I just didn’t want to release them into the wild this week. Really can’t tell you why, other than they continue a recent theme rattling on about “the looming infrastructure crisis due to real estate development” which has been explored in recent weeks – so instead – a few pix from a recent walk around LIC. I need a vacation, I really do.

That’s an “at grade” crossing of Borden Avenue which the Long Island Railroad has been using since the 1870’s pictured above. There are just a few of these “at grade” interactions between automotive traffic and rail in NYC, and the Queens side of Newtown Creek is where you can find several of them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cupola of LIC’s sapphire megalith was just peeking out over a couple of squamous warehouse buildings on Borden Avenue, a bit further to the east. Despite the unlikely presence of some inhuman “thing” up there, which greedily stares down upon the world of men with a three lobed burning eye, I often utilize the megalith as a navigation tool while moving through some of the distaff areas surrounding the Newtown Creek.

You can easily see this building from as far away as Staten Island. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throwing my feet around in the area I have christened as “the empty corridor” beneath the Long Island Expressway, which is observationally and historically a fine choice for illegal dumping, this somewhat adolescent cat greeted me recently. One of the interesting things I’ve been noticing of late is that site managers all over the Creek are setting up shelters for the ferals and encouraging them to hang around.

I’ve inquired with a few people on this subject and the reasoning behind the effort boils down to that hiring an exterminator to control rodents is quite expensive, and encouraging a “staff” of onsite 24 hour exterminators to take up residence isn’t. Same logic that farmers use, actually.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 13, 2016 at 11:01 am

furtive signs

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Triffids at Newtown Creek?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, I was enacting my usual pilgrimage back from Greenpoint to Astoria and since it was a nice day I decided to take the long way home and visit Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary as it had been a good 72 hours since the last time I was there. That’s the Queens Midtown Expressway truss bridge of the larger Long Island Expressway highway complex at its highest altitude, some 106 feet over the water.

In truth, the Dutch Kills route is actually a bit of a shortcut for me, as the route is a good number of blocks shorter than taking the Greenpoint Avenue pathway eastwards through Blissville and Sunnyside due to the somewhat triangular relationship between Northern Blvd. and GP avenue. I like to cut down 27th street from Borden Avenue, in order to access Skillman Avenue, which runs roughly parallel to Northern Blvd. until 39th street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was on 27th street, right in front of what was once known as Irving Subway Grate, that I spotted this bizarre plant. One would like to imagine two distinct scenarios to describe it – one involving extraterrestrial spores settling down upon LIC and spawning an alien vegetable, the other is that the mutagenic chemicals swirling around in the waters of Dutch Kills have perverted and created a new and debased form of life.

It’s probably something that a botanist would instantly recognize, but please – allow me my little fantasies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These seed pods, or perhaps fruit, were heavily armored. They were fairly large, at about 3-5 inches in length.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Were they not shaped like the pincers of an insect, or crab, I would have produced my trusty pocket knife and cut one open to reveal what was inside. Instead, I was fearful that I might get pinched by some autonomic reaction so I stayed at a safe distance. What if they were man eating Triffids in some juvenile form?

You can’t be too careful around Newtown Creek. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What were they? Only that impossible thing, which cannot possibly be real, hiding in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of Long Island City that stares down upon the world of men through its three lobed burning eye, can know for sure.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

uncanny subjects

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Ain’t nothing like taking a walk in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was merely strolling about one recent afternoon, when a sudden whimsy manifested and my perambulatory route was altered to include a southerly crossing of Crescent Street. Musing upon the loquacious, and having just dodged the dizzying passing of two tiny boys who were running down the pavement towards the next corner, the looming megalith and that thing which cannot exist in its cupola suddenly seized upon my every attention.

That devilish intelligence, with its singular but three lobed burning eye that has stared down upon Queens in unoccluded fashion for so long, has had its view suddenly blotted out by the irritating industry of man and a red hot real estate market.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of what’s rising in LIC these days are glass boxes of questionable architectural virtue, and quite bland to my tastes. I want something a bit more “Gotham City” in LIC, with robust stone walls and an impressive facade. What do I know about architecture, though? I know’s what’s I like’s.

That’s the (seemingly) nearly complete Hephaistos Building Supply building which is found on the corner of Crescent street and 37th avenue. Normally, buildings in LIC shoot upwards and are finished in pretty quick order, but this project has been going on for years. I’ve been paying attention to the construction project for some reason, and now I know why.

There seems to be a Greek temple at the cornice of it, and how cool is that?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I say that this project has been proceeding slowly, just as a “for instance,” the shot above is from May of 2014. Somewhere in the archives I’ve got shots of the raw steel girders standing here for what must have been a couple of years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hephaistos Building Supply has a storefront down the block on 37th avenue’s intersection with 24th street. Can’t tell you much about the company other than it seems to be an Astoria based supplier of construction materials, specifically selling their wares to the professional contractor’s market.

That, and they built what looks like a Greek temple on their roof. If anyone from Hephaistos Building Supply is reading this, I’d love to get some shots from up there on that roof of yours.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Interestingly, Hephaistos Building Supply uses the original transliteration of the name of the Hellenic God of “blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes,” although it’s meant to get a little tilde over the “e” – Ἥφαιστος Hēphaistos.” There’s apparently evidence that Hēphaistos was worshipped in very early times, dating back to the Bronze Age (and possibly the oldest city in Europe) city of Knossos on the island of Crete. Classical Age worship of the God Hēphaistos was centered around Lemnos, but the Romans (who called the God “Vulcan”) were convinced he maintained a workshop under Mount Aetna.

Hēphaistos was an Olympian. This page at theoi.com has an interesting series of anecdotes from ancient literature describing the worship and veneration of the God of smiths in antiquity. As far as modern veneration here at the very southern edge of Astoria, Queens, where it bumps up against the northern borders of the Dutch Kills section?

Who can say? I haven’t been invited to that party as of yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My path down Crescent Street proving fruitful, one continued in the general direction of Queens Plaza. The light was lovely, and the visible sections of the flood plain of the former wetlands of Sunwick Creek, where the Big Allis power plant squamously spreads, were beautifully illuminated.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 26, 2016 at 11:00 am

sprightly cleric

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Up Dutch Kills, with a paddle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal T. Willis Elkins, who’s the Project Manager of Newtown Creek Alliance and the co chair of the Newtown Creek CAG, sent out an invite recently inquiring whether I might have any interest in taking an evening paddle with employees of the NYC DEP on my beloved Newtown Creek – specifically up the Dutch Kills tributary in LIC and a couple of other points of nearby interest in Booklyn.

How could I resist? 

T. Willis is also one of the show runners at North Brooklyn Boat Club, found in Greenpoint under the Pulaski Bridge, so that’s where our little crew met up. We donned life vests, listened to Will’s safety speech, and got into canoes. I chose to go out in the smaller of the two boats, presuming that it would be a better spot to take pictures from than the enormous version that everybody else would be in.

The only condition which T. Willis set down for the trip was that everybody would have to row, but… cardio, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

T. Willis had timed our trip to coincide with low tide on the Creek, which is required to pass beneath the MTA’s non functional Cabin M railroad swing bridge which is – at best – just a few feet over the water. We headed into Long Island City along the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and pictured above is the second of the bridges you’ll find along the tributary – Cabin M – which is a truss bridge that can actually open and close.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks east along Cabin M towards the SimsMetal dock. DB Cabin services the Lower Montauk branch of the LIRR’s freight operations, connecting the Wheelspur and Blissville yards. The Long Island Railroad tracks follow the main stem of the waterway eastwards into Blissville, Maspeth and eventually turn north towards Fresh Pond. This traffic is maintained and operated by LIRR’s contracted freight partner, the NY & Atlantic.

Cabin M is part of the now defunct Montauk Cutoff tracks, which provided access to the Sunnyside Yards from the freight tracks along the Creek. The Montauk Cutoff itself was detailed in this post last year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We proceeded along Dutch Kills and passed under the venerable Borden Avenue Bridge, one of only two retractile bridges in the City of Greater New York. The sections of Borden Avenue it connects were swamp land until the Army Corps of Engineers blew through in the decade following the Civil War, creating first a “plank road” through the already despoiled wetlands, then a few decades later laying macadam roads and filling in the swamps with landfill. It wasn’t until 1909 that this area kicked into high gear, after the Queensboro Bridge opened. With the construction and creation  of the nearby Sunnyside Yards, and the Degnon Terminal industrial zone which surrounds Dutch Kills, this section of LIC soon became known as “America’s Workshop.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills sports a “turning basin” built for shipping, which isn’t used in modernity due to that non functioning rail bridge – DB Cabin – found at its intersection with the main stem of Newtown Creek. The turning basin is nearly a mile back into Long Island City, and you can really get a sense of how much new construction is happening in LIC from back here.

There’s also a couple of pretty large combined sewer outfalls – CSO’s – back here, which everybody’s friends at the DEP whom we were paddling with are actually responsible for. The pipes here are connected to the Bowery Bay Sewage Treatment plant in Astoria, for the vulgarly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve shown you before – lords and ladies – the abandoned fuel barges found back here, which have been allowed to rot away into the water – in previous posts. I’ve also described to you the “situation” which the American Warehouse company has found themselves in during the early 21st century – wherein the undermining of their site by the waters of Dutch Kills have cost them a pretty penny to shore up. Many, many million pennies, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way out, we passed under the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. All of the NYC DOT administered bridges on the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are maintained in working order, and I’ve witnessed this single bascule drawbridge being opened and closed.

Heck, I was a parade Marshall for its centennial, and we even had a parade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our little group visited a couple of other spots nearby, Unnamed Canal and Whale Creek, then rowed out to the Creek’s intersection with the East River for a bit. Along the way, I spotted this feral fellow in Greenpoint.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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