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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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long quay

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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

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.

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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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unwonted ripples

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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

faint draft

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Sludge Boats, baby, Sludge Boats…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those two weeks which formed the end of November, a humble narrator was enjoying a vacation from all things with the Missus. In fact, for about half of our vacation time, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself weren’t even on the North American continent. The week of Thanksgiving, we were back, but maintained a low profile.

One thing which drew me and the camera out of our splendid seclusion, however, was the news that the NYC DEP would be holding a ceremony to christen the fleet of three new sludge boats over at their Wards Island facility. How could I resist… I mean… Sludge Boats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MV’s (municipal vehicles) Rockaway, Port Richmond, and Hunts Point have been shaking down in NY Harbor all year. Remember, back in the beginning of 2014, when a humble narrator braved the chill climes of a polar vortex at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to bring you images of Hunts Point?

You’ll say “jump” and I’ll say “how high” when the subject of Sludge Boats is at hand. Height is what these boats are designed around, incidentally. This new class of MV’s can pass under the Pulaski Bridge, spanning my beloved Newtown Creek at high tide, without requiring the drawbridge to open.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lady in the center of the shot is DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd, incidentally, with Deputy Commissioner Angella Locata to her left. I don’t know who the lady on the right is, but I led this post off with her christening the Hunts Point, so there you are.

There were lots and lots of important folks at Wards Island – brass from DEP and City Hall, Press, even a press Helicopter – as well as a whole gaggle of us from the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee. NCMC is a community group that performs citizen oversight on the multi billion dollar construction efforts at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant over in Greenpoint, and the delivery of these three new Sludge Boats are a sign that the decades long project is nearing completion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the ceremonial events were accomplished, the DEP welcomed all onboard the Hunts Point, allowing an opportunity for inspection and observation.

The Port Richmond peeled out of the dock early, probably because it had “shit to do.” Get it? Shit to do? Sludge Boat… Shit… Ahhh, nevermind. Port Richmond headed south toward the Triborough Bridge through the Hells Gate section of the estimable East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Exploration of the boat brought me to the big chair up on the bridge, and although no one would have let me start the engine and put Hunts Point through her paces, I did stand there murmuring “vroom vroom” until such time as I was asked to stop doing so. I did manage to say “make it so” and “ahead warp factor 3, Mr. Sulu” as well. One thinks that being so close to the very locus of Robert Moses’s power base on Wards Island causes odd concatenations in the thought process.

Alternatively, actually getting on a Sludge Boat after all these years simply made me giddy with delight. A big Mazel Tov goes out to the NYC DEP on the occasion of the birth of their new triplets.

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