The Newtown Pentacle

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ignorantly spared

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Back on the job.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since the recent extreme cold spell has broken, a humble narrator has found himself marching about again, and boy are my dogs barking. On Tuesday, a stroll over to Bushwick East Williamsburg was enacted and the farthest reaches of the Newtown Creek at English Kills were observed. As expected, the waterway was frozen over.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Toxic ice. You don’t get to say that particular phrase that too often, but that’s what you’re looking at in the shot above. English Kills is the far eastern terminus of Newtown Creek, which branches off of the East River nearly 3.8 miles from the larger waterbody. These shots were gathered at about 3.7 miles back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That big sewer outfall at the end of the tributary is the 3.8 mile terminus mark, and the north/south street seen beyond the fencelines is Johnson Avenue. The surrounding neighborhood is gentrifying (dictionary definition of gentrifying), but on a fairly small scale as compared to points found to the west like LIC and Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One decided to hang around the neighborhood for a bit and stretch my legs after the long interval of being trapped in the house by inclement clime, and visit a few of my favorite places. This shot is from the Scott Avenue footbridge, which spans the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch freight tracks, just as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was dipping behind New Jersey to the west.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heading over towards Metropolitan Avenue, and another of the dead end tributaries of Newtown Creek – the East Branch, one discovered that this section of the water was similarly locked in a decidedly polar state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ice was decaying faster in both waterways where it touched the open sewer outfalls, no doubt due to the flow of melt water laden with road salt coming in from as far away as Canarsie. This untreated sewage is quite biologically active as well, and the metabolism of the microscopic entities contained in the water column likely helps to warm it up a bit.


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dull acquiescence

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It’s National Candied Orange Peel Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week was quite a busy one, with the new K bridge opening and the Governor coming to Newtown Creek, and then riding over the thing with the NY Times and all, but my fun didn’t end there. After the green cab ride with Emma G. Fitzsimmons, the NY Times transit reporter who wrote the article, one found himself in Williamsburg where I got to observe the insane amount of traffic typical of the Metropolitan Avenue corridor. I had to get to Maspeth to meet up with Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY and a couple of other friends, who had asked me to conduct a Newtown Creek walk for them. I had a full day of scuttling in front of me, so I wanted to conserve my energy.

Luckily, the Q54 bus replicates the route of an old trolley line which connected Williamsburg to Maspeth, so I whipped out my Metrocard and headed for the Clinton or Goodfellas diner. Traffic was horrible all the way there, and I ended up being about a half hour late for the endeavor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walk I took the small group on was a “half Creekathon” which proceeded eastwards from industrial Maspeth through Bushwick and Ridegwood and then west towards Greenpoint. As this was the first truly warm day of the year (and quite humid) our stamina was challenged and we didn’t quite make it all the way, but the roughly five mile walk around the Newtown Creek was – as always – fascinating. The view above is from mid span on the Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Slouching roughly across a footbridge that spans the Bushwick Branch lead track of the LIRR, we crossed the Brooklyn Queens border and entered into industrial Bushwick. This is an area undergoing tremendous amounts of transformation, but it’s still quite horrible, thankfully.

Waste Transfer stations, heavy trucking, the most heavily polluted section of Newtown Creek, visiting the destination for about a third of NYC’s putrescent trash… ahhh… home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch, we spotted this double engine setup crossing Varick Street from the Waste Management facility which processes and handles the trash which will fill up the garbage train. Those green box cars on the left are the containers for the stuff, and it was a bit surprising seeing a bright blue GATX unit back here – normally it’s the black and emerald color way of the NY & Atlantic company you see.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


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It’s Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, in the states of California and Virginia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throw your hands in the air, like you just don’t care.

That’s what most of the residents of Queens do when the subject of Newtown Creek comes up. That’s Brooklyn’s problem, not ours. Then I tell them about how the decisions affecting Queens are being made by the “transplant hipsters of Brooklyn” whom they revile, and that whereas Brooklyn is going to be getting new parks and other municipal goodies out of this Superfund thing… Queens is largely being left out of the equation. That riles the north shore peeps up a bit, but they still don’t get involved. Since the people of Queens are disinterested, so is elected officialdom.

Fish, or cut bait. If neither, then get out of the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always chalked it up to topography. If you’re in East Williamsburg, or Greenpoint, Newtown Creek is part of your life whenever you open your window. The Brooklyn, or south side, of the Newtown Creek hosts residential properties which are literally across the street from the bulkheads. The Queens, or north side, communities generally have a buffer zone of industrial buildings and highways separating them from the water. Newtown Creek is a half mile from residential Sunnyside.

In Queens, they complain about truck traffic, hipsters, and gentrification.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We are at a critical juncture, Newtown Creek wise. The science from all parties involved in the cleanup is beginning to be compiled. The DEP, in particular, is about to lock itself into a quarter century long program of construction and strategic maneuvering. Around a year or so from now, the oil and gas people will be doing the same and committing to a strategic course.

Ultimately, EPA will be doing the same thing and deciding on their course of action, but given the current political crisis in the Federal Government there is no real day to day guarantee that there will be an Environmental Protection Agency which resembles the current one.

What do clean and accessible waterways mean to President Trump and Steve Bannon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting, 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 use some Queensican bodies in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were gathered on the eastern side of the Newtown Creek, in Ridgewood and Maspeth. The environmental conditions in these industrial buffer zones are off the charts bad. You don’t have to look far to find dead birds, rats, all sorts of unlucky critters who innocently wandered in here. It wasn’t the Creek that killed them, it was the hundreds of heavy trucks.

As a note to Maspeth and Ridgewood residents – this is where the trucking you complain about comes from.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a vision of what the future can hold for generations unborn that we have all been working for and towards. An industrial canal which also welcomes recreational boaters. An industrial canal which was the most significant job creation engine NYC has ever seen and which can be so again. A mixed use waterway in which business and the ecology operate hand in hand.

Ever heard of the “Maspeth heat island effect”? It’s the reason why your energy bills are so high during the summer, and it’s caused by the complete lack of green space in these industrial neighborhoods, which causes temperatures hereabouts to be ten or more degrees warmer during the summer than in surrounding communities. Is that Brooklyn’s problem? What about the trucks, or the garbage trains?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post is meant to scold, and compel. Get involved, whatever your point of view is. The political elites of our City will not care unless you care.


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My beloved Newtown Creek, at the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The spot which this shot was captured from is definitively in Queens, although it is quite close to the Brooklyn border which is currently somewhere on the Grand Street bridge in DUGSBO. Said border has moved around a bit over the years, as the political classes of both Boroughs vied for advantage over each other. Nearby Ridgewood has been claimed by both municipal entities over the years, for instance, as each attempted to increase its Congressional delegation or share of tax revenue from State or Federal government. This border dispute has become violent in the past, and it’s just a matter of time until another conflict springs up around the legislative demarcation. It would be a war of alliances, and entrenched positions, a grinding slaughterhouse which future generations might call – Brooklyn Queens War One, or BQW1.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It has long been my supposition that were hostilities to break out between the two sides, the neighborhood of the Grand Street Bridge would form up the front line, functioning as a stand in for the Ardennes Forest as the setting for an unwanted but inevitable conflict. I’m sure that alliances would figure into this, eventually drawing the Bronx and Staten Island in. Manhattan would likely act as a war profiteer, selling weapons and intelligence to all sides. The random possibility of volunteer regiments from White Plains or Jersey City volunteering to fight is slim, but is definitively something for the Generals of both Borough Halls to figure into their strategic calculations. Last thing you’d want is a few hundred thousand fresh “Doughboys” showing up from Albany.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Eventually, even Nassau County would find itself having to choose sides, as refugees from Canarsie and Jamaica seeking to escape the shelling flooded into the relative safety of the eastern suburbs. The Brooklyn aligned forces would have a naval advantage, I’m sure, as Queens has been stripped of much of her maritime infrastructure. With the Bronx at her back, however, Queens aligned forces would make it quite costly for the BKSI soldiery or naval forces to capture even an inch of ground. Don’t forget, Queens has the rails, which means that large scale troop deployments and even rail based guns are possible. The Battle of the Queensbridge Houses would surely be reminiscent of Stalingrad, and the Battle of Breezy Point remembered as a tragedy for both sides. Perhaps the blasted heaths of crater scarred Hunters Point and an artillery blasted Greenpoint might serve as a cautionary tale for future generations.

Also, Queens has all the airports.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 12, 2014 at 11:53 am

argued absence

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Today’s post straddles the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Standing astride Brooklyn and Queens, your humble narrator is endlessly fascinated by the machinery adorning a concrete plant. Passing through and upon the Grand Street Bridge, a pause for reflection of the East Branch of the Newtown Creek was enjoyed. I like to wander up to spots on the Creek these days and try to remember everything I know about it, as a sort of test. While there, I look for anomalous or malign indications of everything that there might be, which is buried down there.

I also try to figure out how many security cameras might be recording me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Paranoid tendencies are just one of the many flaws which I have been accused of displaying, but as I am the terrible sort of person whom you would avoid if you could, they remain one of my better traits. Funny thing is that there are those who hope for my destruction, but they display an alarming lack of competency. “Judge a man by the company he keeps” isn’t my rubric, I judge you by your enemies.

My enemies are generally clowns, so what does that say about me?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What is a man? What has he got? If not himself, then he has not? Thats what I think some song I once heard says.

In the case of this poor specimen, all I’ve got are a couple of spots on a superfund site in the middle of New York City where I can reliably expect to find and or produce Cormorants. Sometimes. Do you suppose that they’re the same Cormorants? Have they been following me around? I’m probably just being paranoid.

Its not like the government secretly records all my phone calls or anything.

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Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

curious heaps

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like Thoreau, your humble narrator occasionally needs to escape it all and commune with the beasts of the field on their own terms. Journey toward nature and become as one with it, all that. Accordingly, a recent perambulation was embarked upon whose destination would reward me with the presence of creatures for whom freedom is no abstract notion, rather it is their daily experience.

from wikipedia

Walden (first published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods) is an American book written by noted Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self reliance.

Published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts.

By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. Simple living and self-sufficiency were Thoreau’s other goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, a central theme of the American Romantic Period. As Thoreau made clear in his book, his cabin was not in wilderness but at the edge of town, about two miles (3 km) from his family home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures of recent weeks, it is still winter- limiting my options for observing natures bounties. There will always be birds exploiting safe harborage, it was reasoned, so my steps headed for the shoreline.

There I found my reward as small flocks of birds were exploiting the mud flats typical of estuarine coastlines.

from Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau, courtesy en.wikisource.org

What is a country without rabbits and partridges? They are among the most simple and indigenous animal products; ancient and venerable families known to antiquity as to modern times; of the very hue and substance of Nature, nearest allied to leaves and to the ground — and to one another; it is either winged or it is legged. It is hardly as if you had seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a partridge bursts away, only a natural one, as much to be expected as rustling leaves. The partridge and the rabbit are still sure to thrive, like true natives of the soil, whatever revolutions occur. If the forest is cut off, the sprouts and bushes which spring up afford them concealment, and they become more numerous than ever. That must be a poor country indeed that does not support a hare.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unlike Thoreau, I have no virginal woodlands with an untouched body of water to retreat to, rather my lot is to yearn for the accursed East Branch of the hated Newtown Creek. Saying that, however, there is a mythology about this body of water which I have become keen to dispel.

This ain’t a dead place, it’s actually teeming with life. Unfortunately, it’s not the cuddly or cute kind of life- instead there are mainly worms, bugs, and other creepy crawlies for whom these anaerobic mudflats are a nutrient rich paradise. The hypoxic state of the water actually reduces the number of potential predators they might encounter.

It’s precisely this sort of critter, who live in the sediment mounds of the Newtown Creek, that the lovely birds in the shots above are feeding on.

from wikipedia

Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen (DO; molecular oxygen dissolved in the water) becomes reduced in concentration to a point where it becomes detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system. Dissolved oxygen is typically expressed as a percentage of the oxygen that would dissolve in the water at the prevailing temperature and salinity (both of which affect the solubility of oxygen in water; see oxygen saturation and underwater). An aquatic system lacking dissolved oxygen (0% saturation) is termed anaerobic, reducing, or anoxic; a system with low concentration—in the range between 1 and 30% saturation—is called hypoxic or dysoxic. Most fish cannot live below 30% saturation. A “healthy” aquatic environment should seldom experience less than 80%. The exaerobic zone is found at the boundary of anoxic and hypoxic zones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the City, State, and even the Nation- engineers are working feverishly on grand designs and byzantine plans whose purpose it is to “fix” Newtown Creek. Many are experts on the place, and can quote a staggering amount of raw data about it from memory, but so few of them have ever actually been here.

It’s as if one can say they understand a neighborhood because they’ve memorized its map and boundaries.

When confronted with the fact that birds, including exotic specimens like egrets, cormorants, and herons are nesting along its banks- to appropriate a term from the British- “they are gob smacked”.

from wikipedia

Tidal flats, along with intertidal salt marshes and mangrove forests, are important ecosystems. They usually support a large population of wildlife, although levels of biodiversity are not particularly high. They are often of vital importance to migratory birds, as well as certain species of crabs, mollusks and fish. In the United Kingdom mudflats have been classified as a Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat.

The maintenance of mudflats is important in preventing coastal erosion. However, mudflats worldwide are under threat from predicted sea level rises, land claims for development, dredging due to shipping purposes, and chemical pollution.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Don’t misunderstand, this is an extremely troubled waterway, and the biomass which it should be supporting is exponentially higher than what you’ll find living here today. The early Creek, the one that the Dutch encountered, was known for an abundant biosphere. All of the highest forms of the mammalian, ichthian, and avian species were here in great numbers- everything from pike to bass to shrimp swam in it, deer and bears and wolves were roaming the hills adjoining the salt marshes and coastal wetlands and hawks, owls, and eagles were described as soaring overhead.

Such fauna obviously won’t be coming back, but there are still fish swimming around here. Not big fish, but fish nevertheless. They eat the creepy crawly things too.

from wikipedia

A tidal creek, tidal channel, or estuary is the portion of a stream that is affected by ebb and flow of ocean tides, in the case that the subject stream discharges to an ocean, sea or strait. Thus this portion of the stream has variable salinity and electrical conductivity over the tidal cycle. Due to the temporal variability of water quality parameters within the tidally influenced zone, there are unique biota associated with tidal creeks, which biota are often specialised to such zones.

Creeks may often dry to a muddy channel with little or no flow at low tide, but often with significant depth of water at high tide.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What chance can such an environment stand with an open sewer the size of an 18 wheeler truck, though?

See, my version of Walden Pond is rent asunder by CSO Outfall NC-083, which discharges an average of 586 million gallons of filth into the East Branch of Newtown Creek per year.

from habitatmap.org

Combined Sewer Outfall NC-083 discharges approximately 586 million gallons of untreated wastewater year into Newtown Creek. This accounts for 2.2% of New York City’s total sewer overflow into the estuary.

This CSO is ranked at #15 out of the 434 permitted outfalls in the city, by volume. It is located alongside a second, smaller, CSO outfall, NC-019.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2012 at 12:15 am

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