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More from the Circumnavigation of Staten Island with the USACE.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in prior posts, one was invited to travel with the United States Army Corps of Engineers on their annual harbor inspection onboard the MCV Hayward last week. The first part of the journey left lower Manhattan and then travelled along the eastern coast of the island, which was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. The USACE commander – Col. Thomas Asbery – and his crew described some of their ongoing, and a few of the upcoming, projects which they are working on that are designed to vouchsafe the area in the era of climate change. The Hayward then took a northern turn onto the Arthur Kill, a busy maritime industrial tidal strait connecting Newark Bay and the Kill Van Kull with Raritan Bay to the south.

Pictured above is the Dylan Cooper, a Reinauer company owned tugboat. Reinauer, like all towing companies in NY Harbor, paint their boats in a particular fashion. The “colorway” allows for rapid identification of a vessel while it’s under way, so you can call out on the radio to it as “Reinauer tug” long before you see the IMO identification number or vessel name painted on the hull. This practice predates modern day radio transponders, which make it somewhat unnecessary, and provides for a bit of colorful panache on the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The western shoreline of the Arthur Kill is in the state of New Jersey (Union and Middlesex Counties), and the eastern is in NYC’s Staten Island. Arthur Kill is about ten miles long, and has also been referred to historically as the Staten Island Sound. The name “Arthur Kill” is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Achter Kill” which translates as “back channel.” Arthur Kill, geologically speaking, is defined as an “abandoned river channel,” which was carved out of the surrounding land by an ancestral pathway of the Hudson River. The New Jersey side is colloquially referred to as “the Chemical Coast.” The expensively maintained depth of the water here is between 35 and 37 feet, and the channel is an average of approximately six hundred feet wide.

The Staten Island side is largely post industrial, with a few notable exceptions. Arthur Kill is crossed by three bridges – The Outerbridge Crossing, the recently replaced Goethals, and the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge. The first two are vehicle bridges, and the latter is for railroad traffic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the New York Container Terminal (aka Howland Hook Marine Terminal) pictured above, on the Staten Island side of the Arthur Kill. Currently being upgraded and massively expanded due to the acquisition of Proctor and Gamble’s Port Ivory, the NYCT was originally built by American Export Lines, but NYC bought the facility in 1973 and it’s leased by the City to the Port Authority. There’s a rail connection just upland from it, which allows for the transport of containers along the former North Shore railroad route originally built and operated by the Vanderbilt owned B&O railroad.

They handle some commercial cargo here, and there’s a customs facility, as well as deep freeze and refrigeration warehouses. Most of the tonnage moving through NYCT these days though are garbage containers, which are loaded from rail cars onto barges for transport off of Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MCV Hayward outpaced Dylan Cooper after the NYCT, and we proceeded to cross the Shooters Island reach and head towards Newark Bay. A “reach” in navigational terms is how far you can travel on a single compass heading before heading to adjust your course, if you’re curious. Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull intersect with Newark Bay at the Shooters Island Reach. To the south, some ten miles behind us, Arthur Kill meets Raritan Bay. About a mile south of Raritan Bay is the Atlantic Ocean. Newark Bay itself is formed by the intersection of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers.

Primeval Newark Bay was called the Newark Meadows, before the 1910 efforts by the City of Newark to carve a shipping channel through the wetlands. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created in 1921, and their first big project was the widening and deepening of the bay for maritime industrial purposes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1927, the PANYNJ used some of the dredge tailings to fill in upland wetlands and the City of Newark took advantage of the new land to create an airport. PANYNJ took over the airport and maritime port in 1948. In 1958, a project at the Bound Brook (formerly defining the border between Elizabeth and Newark) produced enough dredge tailings for the authority to create 90 square acres of new land and the first modern container terminal in NY Harbor was established. The terminal footprint has since expanded to 350 square acres.

The age of containerized global shipping actually got its start here in 1958 when the first container ship – the Ideal-X, a converted US Navy cargo ship – was launched from Port Newark. The cargo container concept was innovated by trucking company executive Malcolm McLean and an engineer named Keith Tattinger. In 1963, the Sea Land Terminal was established at Port Elizabeth Newark, and the rest – as they say – is history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way back to dock in Manhattan, just east of the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry, another United States Army Corps of Engineers vessel and its crew were hard at work. That’s the MCV Gelbart, and the crew members who are pictured standing on that rig tied up “on the hip” of the tug were busy removing flotsam and jetsam from the water. They were handling the “small stuff,” which Col. Asbery described as being mainly plastics – bottles, carrier bags, and the like. That’s what happens when you litter, lords and ladies, it ultimately ends up in the water.

Tomorrow – something completely different, and Friday’s post will ultimately be all about garbage again. You won’t believe what I got to do.


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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Arthur Kill with the USACE, in todays post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described yesterday, I was invited to join with about a hundred other water facing activists and government officials aboard the MCV Hayward for the United States Army Corps of Engineers annual inspection of NY Harbor. This time around, the USACE wanted to discuss their projects and initiatives playing out on Staten Island and at the Port facilities in Newark Bay. After navigating beneath the Verrazano Bridge, the Hayward entered the Arthur Kill – a roughly ten mile long tidal strait which forms Staten Island’s border with New Jersey.

That’s the NJ side tower of the Outerbridge Crossing pictured above, a 1928 suspension cantilever bridge (thx Dan S) operated by the Port Authority. It connects NY route 440 with NJ route 440, offers a 143 foot clearance over the water, and with its approaches the Outerbridge Crossing is just over three miles long. It’s named for “Gene” Eugenius Outerbridge, who was the first chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For somebody with my interests, Arthur Kill is a wonderland of maritime industrial splendors. Given that it’s fairly difficult to get here by boat, given the distance and time/fuel equation, it’s a rare treat for me to be waving the camera around while moving north along it. Also compounding the treat aspect is the time of year (early autumn light in NY Harbor is at the perfect relative angle) and of course there was also the company. While I was shooting this, I was joking around with members of the EPA team from the Newtown Creek Superfund, who are normally quite staid and maintain a “professional” demeanor in our usual encounters. I also got to hang out with the Deputy Commissioner of the DEP, a few people I know from the City Planning arm of NYC Government, and a gaggle of Graduate students and their Professors who are studying various aspects of the harbor. Good times.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To my eye, that’s a former coaling station on the New Jersey side of Arthur Kill. I could be wrong, but I don’t want to inquire too deeply as it’s important to me that there’s still things out there in the Harbor that I don’t know everything about. The New Jersey side of Arthur Kill is often called “the Chemical Coast,” due to a rail line just upland called the “Conrail Chemical Coast Line” which is part of the PANYNJ expressrail system at Port Elizabeth Newark.

The Chemical Coast moniker first appeared in the late 19th century, when the colorants and dyes industry began to base themselves in this section of New Jersey. These industrialists took advantage of the abundance of manufactured gas byproducts being produced around NY Harbor. The red in the American flag, and the blue, are after products of gas manufacturing. Those businesses got forced out when Standard Oil took over the NJ side coastline, and the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey was established. SOCONJ eventually changed its name to ESSO and later to EXXON.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are numerous tributaries and secondary waterways feeding into Arthur Kill – on the New Jersey side you’ve got the Elizabeth, Rahway, Passaic, and Hackensack Rivers (I met citizen activist counterparts for Newtown Creek Alliance from each onboard) as well as the Morse’s and Piles Creek. On Staten Island, you’ve got Lemon, Old Place, Sawmill, and Bridge creeks. Also on Staten Island, you’ve got the infamous Fresh Kills.

That’s the Dann Towing tug Ruby M navigating past the largest man made object on the planet, which is in Staten Island and which the Fresh Kill still flows through. Draining most of the western half of the island, Fresh Kill was designated as NYC’s primary garbage dump and landfill by Robert Moses back in 1947. Between 1948 and 2001, 20 barges a day of garbage – some 650 tons per day – was layered into the pile at the Fresh Kills landfill. NYC Parks took it over in 2006, and converted the now covered mound into a park. Fresh Kills instantly increased NYC parkland by one third.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the future projects which USACE discussed onboard was doing something about the old Witte Ship’s graveyard just north of Fresh Kills. A maritime scrap yard established in 1930, which is a shadow of its former self, the Witte graveyard is nowadays owned by the DonJon towing company. The Army Corps folks discussed their concerns about slicks of unknown composition they’ve observed coming from the wrecks, and the nuances of what would essentially be an excavation job to clean up and remediate the area.

Cotter Dams were mentioned, as well as an extremely large number of dollars.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moving northwards along Arthur Kill, we slotted into the channel under the brand new and recently opened Goethals Bridge replacement. The original Goethals was built at the same time as Outerbridge Crossing, 1928. Named for the first supervising engineer of the Port Authority – Gen. George Washington Goethals (who also happened to be the construction supervisor of the Panama Canal) – the original bridge offered two lanes in each direction. The new model sports three traffic lanes, is meant to have a pedestrian and bicycle lane, and the engineers built the thing with the capability of eventually carrying a mass transit light rail line, should the need arise sometime in the next century.

More tomorrow.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 1, 2019 at 11:30 am

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Cool stuff I get to do, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as the fellow pictured above, I’d normally reference Captain America, but in the case of Thomas Asbery it’s Colonel America. Col. Asbery is the commandant of West Point and heads up the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the NYC region. He’s an immensely nice and friendly guy, and last Wednesday was the second time that I got invited out on his boat with a bunch of other activists, officials, and water facing people to do a harbor inspection. Last year, we went out to Jamaica Bay so that the Colonel and his staff could show off some of the shoreline resiliency projects they were working on. This year, we headed off in a different direction – for a circumnavigation of Staten Island.

A number of post Hurricane Sandy USACE shoreline projects which have been planned in the interim are about to start playing out in Richmond County, and which are designed to protect upland neighborhoods and businesses from future storms, and also to prepare NYC – proactively – for rising sea levels in the 21st century. Whatever your politics are on the subject of climate change are is immaterial to the engineers and soldiers of the USACE – they have a job to do and that’s protecting the citizenry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

About a hundred of us gathered on the west side of lower Manhattan, a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center site. We boarded the vessel pictured above, the DCV Hayward. A drift collection vessel, Hayward is one of several boats operated by the USACE that performs maintenance functions in NY Harbor. You can read a bit more about her mission and function here.

If you didn’t click through, Hayward and it’s crew remove flotsam and jetsam and any other navigational hazards which might interfere with maritime traffic from the water. Hence the big crane.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hayward first navigated eastwards and then moved in a southern direction along the coast of Brooklyn for a bit, then began the southwest journey towards Staten Island. Along the way, Col. Asbery and his staff told the assembled guests about various efforts they were involved in executing, and we were treated to the usual variety show that NY Harbor offers.

It was medium early in the morning – or late afternoon by military or maritime standard – we left the dock at 9 a.m. There were articulated tug and barge combos everywhere, as well as standard harbor tugs performing various duties.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the tug Shawn Miller, towing a flat top barge that had two semi tractor trailer trucks on it, as well as a statue of a horse festooned with “Longines” logos. Doesn’t matter if the tug is pulling, pushing, or tied up “on the hip,” it’s called towing.

Tug companies in NY Harbor generally name their boats after family members. The tug pictured above is owned by a family owned company. Obviously, the family surname is Miller.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hayward navigated into the section of the Narrows between Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Staten Island. Gerritsen Bay is the official nomenclature for this section of the water, and our course carried us directly under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Notice the low lying shoreline above?

The section of Staten Island between the Bridge and the Arthur Kill were amongst the most heavily flooded sections of the City during Sandy, back in 2012, and the USACE has designed a plan to keep that from happening again. The beaches along Father Cappodano Blvd. on this coast are going to completely redone, we were told, with a sloping sandy berm and a Rockaway Beach style boardwalk designed to structurally support it. Most of the drowning deaths associated with the storm occurred in the neighborhoods (Arrochar, South Beach, Ocean Breeze, Midland Beach, and New Dorp Beach) found along this shoreline.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Photographically speaking the shoreline mentioned above is fairly “meh,” as it’s a residential and wooded area. A humble narrator began to perk up when the Hayward entered the maritime channel on the western shoreline of Staten Island known simply as the Arthur Kill. That’s the Port Authority’s Outerbridge Crossing bridge pictured above.

More tomorrow, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

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Maritime Sunday drifts in today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Witness the United States Army Corps of Engineers DCV Hayward as it hurtles into the so called Buttermilk Channel section of the East River.

The legend of Buttermilk Channel is stated thusly- in the ancient days of the Dutch decadence, the Brooklyn to Governors Island section of the tidal strait was so shallow at low tide that farmers would drive their cattle across the muddy puddle and set them to grazing on the island. The cattle would be vouchsafed against canids or the attention of thieves by the high tide, allowing the farmers to move on to other more profitable pursuits. Returning to fetch their dairy cows at the next low tide, the farmers would find that their herds had fed on Governors Island plentiful salt grass, and the cows would produce vast amounts of wholesome milk the next morning. This is how this section of the East River came to be called Buttermilk Channel. Or so the legend states.

Balderdash, claims Captain Doswell of the Working Harbor Committee, although your humble narrator argues for the historical record and colorful story. We agree to disagree.

Subsequent dredging, much of it accomplished by the stewards of the Hayward- the USACE- allows a maritime channel of sufficient depth to disallow the transit of cattle to Governors Island from Brooklyn in modern times.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The maintenance of this channel, specifically keeping it free of floating debris which could impede or injure vessels plying it, is the responsibility of skimmer boats like the Hayward. Built in 1974, Haywards’ crane can handle 120 tons, and she is specifically a “drift collection vessel.” Hayward is one of three such vessels the USACE operates in New York Harbor (with the 1948 vintage Driftmaster and the 1980’s Gelberman) which remove just north of 100 tons of debris from the water annually. This debris includes downed trees, trash of all sorts, really anything that might find its way into the water. Sometimes this can involve downed aircraft.

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Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

Glittering Realms Saturday, August 3rd, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

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