The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘NYC DEP

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It’s National Raspberry Tart Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Call me Ezekial for my visions of a dire future are informed solely by the lessons of the past. When the NYC DEP people told the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee of their plans for a “waste to energy” project at the sewer plant in Greenpoint a while back (I think at the end of the last Bloomberg administration?), they also mentioned that they intended for the equipment which would convert the waste methane produced by their industry into a usable fuel – “natural gas” – on the Greenpoint Avenue side of the sewer plant, a humble narrator grew agitated.

The DEP people said “c’mon, it’s behind the fence, what could happen?” I turned around to Councilmember Steve Levin, who was observing the meeting, and said “Greenpoint has a long history of huge industrial fires, and it’s only a matter of time before a car or truck accidentally blasts through the fence, or a fire starts nearby that could threaten the perimeter here.” “Do we really want a high pressure gas manifold on heavily trafficked Greenpoint Avenue with only a chain link fence to protect it? What if?”

Mr. Levin took note, but the DEP was dismissive. The DEP is always dismissive, and the agency does not like its pronouncements or plans being questioned by unwashed rabble like myself, the State of New York, or the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not six months afterwards, a paper recycling yard across the street from the sewer plant caught fire and burned for several days. DEP had people on the plant’s grounds sweep their property facing the smokey fire with hoses, for fear that wind scattered embers from the blaze across the street might cause damage or start a fire at the plant. The next Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting came around and I got to say “I told you so” to the DEP. The councilman gave me a knowing look and acknowledged that I “called it,” and that was the end of that. The DEP people went along with their plans to install the gas equipment on a busy truck route called Greenpoint Avenue.

Of course, the Citistorage Building fire on the East River side happened a few months later, so allow me to reiterate…

Greenpoint has a history of fires that occur in large industrial buildings that tend to burn for days and days. In 1882 and again in 1919, the entire refinery complex on the Newtown Creek coastline between Greenpoint Avenue and Meeker Avenue were immolated and utterly lost, and in the 1882 fire – the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge burned down. Don’t believe me? Ask my colleague, Greenpoint Historian Geoff Cobb, or do your own research on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine my recent joy, therefore, when another of my little prophecies came true.

I was at the plant to attend a presentation offered by the DEP regarding their “Long Term Control Plan” for combined sewer overflows into Newtown Creek. The plan is a lot of hoo-hah if you ask me, a Potemkin Village’s worth of politically convenient bioswales, rain gardens, and unfunded mandates for large scale construction projects which is designed to compel future generations into finding a way to pay for it all, rather than asking it of the current one. The LTCP process, citywide, is turning out to be a wonderful example of non urgently passing the buck while billions of gallons of sewage flow into New York Harbor every single time it rains. They want to build pump houses and dig retention tunnels, but all of it begins in twenty to thirty years and…

Thirty years ago, New York City was financially crippled and crime was at an all time high, and you couldn’t give away the waterfront land in Williamsburg or Long Island City. Twenty years ago, America had “won the Cold War” and it was the “end of history.” Rudy Giuliani was already a bit crazy, but not like now… Bill Clinton was President… you would have been hard pressed to get anyone to believe the sort of dystopic world we now live in, or the property valuations of Williamsburg, were just on the horizon. Donald Trump? What?

A lot can happen in 20-30 years, and there’s no time like the present for “getting it done.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, I had attended a tour of the plant on Sunday April 22nd, and these shots were captured on Wednesday the 26th. Anonymous informants who work at the plant informed me that some driver had not recognized the presence of the fence when traveling west from North Henry Street, and crossed Greenpoint Avenue at accelerating speed, and plowed into the fenceline without braking.

As a point of trivia, North Henry Street actually does continue through the plant, it’s just closed to non official traffic. I seem to recall seeing a street sign for it inside the fence quite a while ago, but I also might be imagining it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news, which came to me in another Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting on the 30th of March, is that DEP’s partners in the “waste to energy” project – National Grid – now prefer a spot deeper within the plant’s grounds to install their equipment to harvest the waste methane which is not on Greenpoint Avenue.

Ezekial, call me Ezekial, for I am a prophet.


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.

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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It’s National Almond Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Owing to other obligations and piss poor weather conditions for the last couple of weeks, one hasn’t got anything new to show you for this week. Accordingly, it has been decided to instead present a few archive shots of the various branches of NYC government which make life liveable for us here in “Home Sweet Hell.”

Today, the focus is on the NYC DEP – the astounding New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m a frequent critic of this agency, due to my knowing WAY too much about their operations because of the whole Newtown Creek thing. Saying that, they are a pretty amazing group. They deliver clean water to our faucets and remove dirty water from our toilets. They’re in charge of policing noise, and chemical spills, and cleaner air. DEP owns a navy, which they humorously refer to as “honey boats.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Deep below the Lower East Side, within a sequestered building that plunges deeply into the ground, there’s a giant pipe into which all the sewage of Manhattan (below 79th street) pours. The other end of this “surge tower” is at the sewer plant in Greenpoint where all of this “yuck” is headed for treatment. The shot above is staring directly down and into the DEP’s maelstrom.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in NYC DEP, Photowalks

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It’s Australia Day, in the Commonwealth of Australia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m likely the only person in Astoria, Queens who exclaims “Hey, that’s the DEP” when he hears a random series of clinks and metallic groans coming from outside. I’m also likely to be the only person who grabs his camera and gets in on the action. It was the eleventh of January, a Wednesday, when it all started – a brand new Astoria Hullabaloo, and the first one of 2017, too. It was unseasonably warm that day in Astoria, and sunny.

Me? My names Mitch. I’m a shmuck with a camera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Astoria’s Broadway in the shot above, in the 40’s. It’s a shopping strip, with tracks of the NYC Subway’s IND Queens Blvd. line running beneath it. The subway stations hereabouts opened on the 19th of August in 1933, and were paid for (in part) by money sent from the Federal Work Projects Administration during the New Deal. The modern day, as in 21st century, designation for the lines that pass by underneath are the “R” and “M.” In the recent past, the “V” and “G” lines used to service these stations as well.

The tracks have to be a good thirty to forty feet down below the roadway and housed in a cut and cover tunnel. The intervening void between the tracks and the asphalt hosts a heterogenous collection of wires, electrical equipment, concrete vaults, and lots of pipes. The pipes are why the DEP were on scene, but more on that in a moment.

Personally, I had to exit the area to attend a meeting, but later when I got home…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on the corner of Broadway and 45th street, here in Astoria, water was observed bubbling and spurting out of the street. A completely different DEP crew had shown up and they were settling down into the task of digging their way into the asphalt. They had all sorts of lovely equipment with them, which normally makes me jealous. What didn’t make me jealous was the fact that the temperature had dropped and there was now a slow drizzle of rain falling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was also positively ecstatic that a jackhammer was being used just one block from my house, at night, but what are you going to do? Water main breaks have to be addressed.

BTW, whereas I’m actually quite adversarial with the people in the fancy suits that run the DEP (Newtown Creek makes you mean), I’ve got nothing but praise for the “dirty fingernail” folks who do the actual hard work which keeps NYC both wet and dry. Never met a DEP worker I didn’t like, in fact. I’ve met a few Commissioners and other brass who I’d like to feed head first into a pit of zombies, but the workers are generally “A-OK.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Thursday the 12th of January, one had a bit of a busy day. A few errands in the neighborhood were accomplished before I had to go and take a picture of something for someone, and I noticed that several fire hydrants had been fully opened and were discharging into the gutter. This aroused no end of curiousity and amusement on the part of the neighbors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fun part was watching people who had their noses deeply buried in their phones suddenly realize that they had walked into several inches of water running towards the sewer grates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m surmising here, but what I think was going on was that the DEP crew needed to empty the water in the affected pipe over on 45th street and did so by opening the fire hydrant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Good news is that the streets around here have never been cleaner than they were on the morning of Thursday, January 12th.

When the Department of Sanitation, which I believe was originally styled as the Dept. of Street Cleaning at its creation on May 30,1881 (but didn’t do a very good job of it until Col. Waring took over in 1894), this was actually how they did their thing. Those old school sanitation workers with the brushes and pails that had wheels? Yep, they’d open Manhattan’s hydrants up and use their brooms to move all the trash either towards the sewers or down to the rivers, which were and are essentially the same thing. They started calling it the Department of Sanitation in 1929, if you’re curious.

This is about NYC DEP, though, a municipal agency which was created in 1983 out of multiple City agencies that governed water supply and sewerage, amongst other things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One sped off to my aforementioned appointment, pointed my camera at the intended target, and then headed back to Astoria later that afternoon. Hoping to see more of the Hullabaloo, one walked up 45th street towards Broadway and found that the DEP crews were still hard at work on solving the case of the Astoria Water Pipe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving at the corner, one discovered that they had dug quite a hole, having brought in lots more labor and some heavy equipment. They had encountered a snag apparently, discovering that whoever had installed the damaged pipe (which could have been anytime between about 1875 and now, actually) had done so in an incorrect fashion.

They had to dig their way into the concrete barrel vault of the sewer in order to repair the leaking water main.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was one heck of a prodigious hole, however, and I complimented the foreman on his crew’s efforts. Funny thing was that he asked me who I was after noticing the camera hanging by my side, and seemed to recognize my name. That was sort of weird.

I asked if I could get a couple of shots of the hole, and he offered no objection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They were all gone the morning of Friday the 13th, the street was patched with fresh asphalt, and garbage was again building up in middens along the curbs – normal, in other words – for Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yet another Hullabaloo, here in the ancient village.

One gathered up my little dog Zuzu for her constitutional stroll, and as we wandered down the pavement, I was wondering “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there,” while Zuzu the dog grew apprehensive as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself began to drop away. She sniffed something on the air she did not like.

It was Friday the 13th eve, after all.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

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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.

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Sludge Boats, baby, Sludge Boats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots are actually from the height of that shoulder injury period last month, and represent a desperate desire one acted upon to “shake it off” by indulging in a bit of exercise. The weather was less than cooperative from a light point of view, and the affected limb was less than pleased at the rest of my body moving around, so I decided that since I was in the “hell of pain” I’d simply head over to Hells Gate and indulge the horror.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily for my diversion starved and somewhat depressed state of mind, the MV Red Hook was observed while debarking from the Wards Island dewatering facility across the river. Wards Island is the end point for the sewage sludge process, which is operated by the NYC DEP. Centrifugal machines are fed the material, which has the consistency of syrup or warm honey at the end of the thickening process at the various neighborhood sewer plants, which is carried here by the DEP’s fleet of “Honey” or Sludge boats. The dewatered material is compressed into “cakes” and sold for use as fertilizer on non food crops such as cotton and Christmas Trees.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MV Red Hook is one of NYC’s older generation of Sludge Boats, although it’s the newest of its type – having come online in 2012. The newer class of Sludge Boats has been discussed here at Newtown Pentacle before.

from NYC.gov

The Red Hook sludge vessel was built over a three-year period in Brownsville, Texas by Keppel AmFELS. Once completed, it took seven days to make its way to New York City, arriving on November 19, 2008. The vessel has recently completed post-delivery dry-dock inspections and adjustments at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and is ready for service. Each six-person crew consists of a captain, chief engineer, assistant engineer, mate and two mariners. Crews work a 40-hour week divided into 14, 13, and 13 hour shifts. The Red Hook is slightly over 350 feet long, about 53 feet wide, with a depth of slightly over 21 feet. It has eight storage tanks with 150,000 cubic foot capacity equivalent to 1.2 million gallons. The Red Hook weighs over 2,098 long tons and is designed to travel at 12.75 knots or approximately 15 miles per hour. On a typical week, each vessel makes 14 round trips and visits eight wastewater treatment plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All of the DEP’s honey boats will find themselves heading to or from Wards Island periodically, after making their rounds at one of the City’s 14 sewer plants. Hells Gate is a great place to spot them, and Shore Road along Astoria Park is a great place to observe Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are many who would agree with me, in my assertion that the view from Shore Road rocks.

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Ahh, my beloved Creek… she never disappoints.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one found himself visiting the Vernon Avenue Street End in the company of a couple of friends who were busy talking shop. I was idle, and interfering with their conversations, and so went to the water’s edge. A fine view of DUPBO was being enjoyed when the NYC DEP’s Port Richmond Sludge Boat appeared.

“Oh happy day” thought I.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m fairly obsessed with the DEP’s Navy, and my interests in the fleet of sludge boats is well known to regular readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle. This is one of three brand new vessels, recently brought online, the Port Richmond. In the shot above, its doing what its designed to do, which is pass under the Pulaski Bridge without necessitating the draw bridge to open.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Port Richmond was coming from the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant’s new dock facility along Newtown Creek’s Whale Creek tributary. It was likely headed for Wards Island, where the “honey” would be pumped out. Said “honey” will be centrifuged to remove as much water as possible, leaving behind sewage solids which have been described to me as having the consistency of wet polenta.

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Just a short one today, but… Sludge Boat, baby, Sludge Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, while on a ferry to Red Hook, (long story) the Port Richmond Sludge Boat was spotted. You might recall a recent post which described the christening and official launch of the three new exemplars of the NYC DEP’s sludge collection vessels, but if you don’t – here’s a link to a 2014 Newtown Pentacle post that discusses it. Long time readers know that I’m a bit obsessed with sludge boats, for some reason.

These boats are “MV’s” or municipal vehicles, which means that you and I own them. They are ours. Now if only DEP would lend me the keys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All three examples of this new class were designed with Newtown Creek in mind, as this kind of MV’s can pass under the Pulaski Bridge at high tide, without requiring the drawbridge to open. Gross tonnage is 2,772 on these vessels, they’re 290 feet long with a draught of 4.3m. There’s three of them operating in NY Harbor now – Hunts Point, Rockaway, and as pictured above Port Richmond.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 14, 2015 at 12:30 pm

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