A black-crowned night heron. Several swallows, cormorants, and geese. One lone white duck. These were some of the birds seen on this Saturday’s canoe trip to Plank Road, which was a collaboration between the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) and the North Brooklyn Boat Club. The paddlers, many out for their first trip on New York’s waterways, remarked on the stunning juxtaposition of active and crumbling industrial sites alongside a very living, if troubled, ecosystem. They traveled up the Newtown Creek and met up with a land-based group to hear from historian Mitch Waxman about this peculiar site that the NCA is looking to revamp in the coming months.
Newtown Creek Alliance
Thanks to Newtown Creek Alliance and North Brooklyn Boat Club for organizing this fun canoe trip on the Newtown Creek. While nature in the way of lush forests and crystal clear running streams is far from the scenery along this industrial waterway, “nature has returned to the creek,” our guides explained, which is a good sign.
Among the many birds we spotted were cormorants, swallows, cardinals, a great egret, an entire flocks of cormorants, a catbird and a few geese who were demonstrating a curious behavior of swimming along the creek’s edge with their necks down low on the water.
We were very excited to also see blue crabs, oysters, small fish and jelly fish!
I won’t say it didn’t smell, in some parts worse than others. Mostly they were industrial gas and crude oil smells. There was a lot of garbage floating, capri sun containers, potato chips bags, tampons, and I won’t say that I didn’t cringe every time even the most minuscule drop splashed on my arm or even worse right near my lips.
When I asked Jens of NBBC what would be the protocol if someone fell in and swallowed a mouthful of water, he said he would recommend getting a Hepatitis test since the biggest pollutant on the creek nowadays is human excrement.
The most striking feature of the tour was when we canoed up to a partition between the creek and a combined sewage overflow, CSO area. That is where rainwater mixed with sewage from the treatment plant overflows after heavy rain. The water on our side of the partition was very clear, protected from – wait for it – “floatables.” On the other side, where an unknowing egret was hunting, was thick putrid sludge leading from the huge overflow pipe.
When we returned to the boat club dock I was never so excited to wash my hands, especially the spot of water that turned brown on my arm.
Canoeing up the creek is something that everyone should experience, at least once. If not for the birds – for the reality check. Modern conveniences like toilets and sanitation make us forget the impact we have on our own environment. While the creek is on its way to becoming a less vile place, it’s still the toilet of NYC, and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to it, especially since it is becoming a viable place for our own native fauna.
Bonus: Laura Hoffman, locally famous environmental hero for Greenpoint, who was a plaintiff in a 2004 lawsuit against ExxonMobil for contamination of Greenpoint and the Newtown Creek that won $19million for an environmental projects fund, was on the same canoe trip! I was honored to finally meet her.
Man, I wish I didn’t have to go to dumb work or I’d be checking out birds on the Maspeth Creek (49th St & Maspeth Ave), tomorrow Friday April 26th, 2013 at 1pm hosted by Newtown Creek Alliance and Department of Environmental Conservation.
During the wildlife viewing announcements will be about the release of New York Wildlife Viewing Guide, Newtown Creek Alliance Bird Guide and the 2013 Birdwatching Canoe Trip Season with North Brooklyn Boat Club.
Bring your own binoculars!
Whether you are a new supporter, or were there at the very beginning, the Newtown Creek Alliance invites you to share this moment to commemorate the great work they have done, and recognize the important work ahead, tomorrow Wednesday November 28, from 7-9pm @ The Warsaw (261 Driggs Ave).
Considering how much funk is in the creek, you know it’s gonna be quite the jam.
*Refreshments will be served, and there will be a cash bar.
Over a year ago, on September 27, 2010, the EPA opened a new chapter on the ongoing saga of our polluted waterway by designating the Newtown Creek a federally recognized Superfund Site. This program, which allocates federal money towards research and remediation and aggressively pursues polluters for subsequent remuneration, is contentious because it carries a powerful stigma; however, being on the Superfund list provides our neighborhood with powerful tools for improvement.
A year later, on October 25th, the EPA invited members of the public to an information session to educate locals on the upcoming plans for the creek. At the meeting I was told to keep an eye on the website, where data and announcements will be made public. Officials also informed me that studies into the physical geography of the waterway are set to begin next spring, including bathymetry to determine the exact geometry of the waterway and acoustic studies to find sunken obstructions, among others.
Following these will be chemical analyses to determine the exact nature of the contamination and identify areas that may still be leaching pollutants into the waterway. Interestingly – perhaps suspiciously – these studies will be conducted by firms hired and paid for by the polluters themselves, though this will of course be under EPA scrutiny and direction.
Perhaps the most interesting information I learned was that this process involves coming up with a general cost for the pre-remediation studies – in this case, 25 million dollars for the studies alone, only 5 million short of what the entire remediation effort costs at the average Superfund site – and then leaving it up to the identified polluters to decide amongst themselves who is responsible for what portion of that cost and to fund the studies themselves. The degree to which individual companies are held financially responsible is based in part on their contributions to the pollution and in part on their ability to pay; the EPA avoids bankrupting companies in pursuing remediation funding.
This is a long process, and we shouldn’t expect remediation to begin for at least 5-7 years. I was told – hesitantly, and in no uncertain terms that this was only the widest of estimates – that the cost of remediation would be around 500 million at the absolute minimum. Ours is what the EPA terms a regional “megasite” due to the nature, extent, and history of contamination. It’s a dubious honor, to be sure.
This process will prove pivotal to the future of our neighborhood, so be sure to keep a close eye on the EPA website for updates and future public meetings. If you have additional questions, contact these EPA representatives for more information:
Remedial Project Manager – General questions
Phone: (212) 637-4275
Michael A. Mintzer
Assistant Regional Counsel – Legal questions
Phone: (212) 637-3168
Who isn’t interested in Newtown Creek? For a cool and esoteric trip check out The Hidden Harbor tour on May 21st.
Join us for a special water tour with expert narration from guest speakers. There are limited tickets available at workingharbor.org for a very rare tour of the length of the Newtown Creek. New York’s forgotten history will be revealed — as well as bright plans for the future of the creek. Guest narrators will cover points of historical interest as well as environmental and conservation issues during your three-hour exploration.
MV American Princess is a large, comfortable vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. A complementary soft drink and souvenir tour brochure is included. Cruise runs rain or shine. Hosted by Hidden Harbor Tours® in association with River Keeper and the Newtown Creek Alliance.
Explore the Newtown Creek
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Pier 17, South Street Seaport
Departs 10am sharp
$60 – Purchase tickets here
Do you want a pair of seats for the VAN HALEN show at MSG, Tuesday 11/13? Then stop by The Diamond to find out about their raffle. Proceeds go to the Newtown Creek Alliance. $5 Raffle tickets went on sale last Thursday and there are only 100. So if they didn’t sell out over the weekend, I suggest getting over there ASAP to try and score a chance. Drawing will be this Thursday 11/8! Grand prize is two seats to the show. Good 2nd and 3rd place prizes too.
AM New York reports today on the Greenpoint stench we all know and hate.
“When the Department of Environmental Protection held the grand opening of the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, it was a lovely day by all accounts: the sun was shining, a cool breeze blew off the water, and children played in the new park.
There was just one problem, say several who attended the event last month. The place stunk, as it did for several days this pas summer with a sewage-like smell.”
Ok, there has been a lot of mentioning of this Newtown Creek Nature Walk park thingy the DEP thought up lately and I just have to say – are they mentally retarded? Why on earth ANYONE would want to spend a day any closer to the shit plant is beyond me.
“But residents say the smell has grown worse recently, more pungent, covering a wider swath of the neighborhood for more days out of the year.”
Honestly, I have to disagree. I have only smelled it on but a few occasions this Summer and as a kid I remember it stinking and I lived further away from it than I do now. It actually seems about the same. Maybe it depends on which way the wind blows, but honestly, that’s neither here nor there – the place is a fucking warehouse for SHIT. What do you really expect it to smell like? Really?
“A few years ago this was billed as the last place anybody on earth would want to be,” said Ann Kansfield, pastor of the Greenpoint Reformed Church. “Most of the people who could move out of the neighborhood did. I mean what kind of affluent person would want to buy a place here?”
Ok, I wouldn’t go as far as saying Greenpoint was the last place anyone on earth would want to be, but I do agree that many who could leave did. Many went out of state, some out to Long Island but many have stayed. It’s not the same place it was then, someways better, others worse. But I definitely can’t say the Creek Reek has changed either way.
No disrespect to The Newtown Creek Alliance, which I’m sure is trying to do only good things and of course I would be insane to not want cleanup and less stank in the Creek, but I honestly can’t help but think the “Nature Walk” is just a waste of money. Why would anyone want to go walk around basically in the middle of a sewage treatment plant? Yeah the views are nice but I highly doubt it’s going to be anything but desolate over there.
However, I bet it’s nice for people who work there. Someplace a little nicer to have a smoke break.