NEW YORK TIMES
February 10, 2002
Sounding a Death Knell for a Long-Forsaken Waterway
By E. E. LIPPINCOTT
In January the smell is almost undetectable, just the slightest hint of sulfuric sourness. In the summer it's enough to make you wince. But the oily water has its chalky green look all year round, and there are hardly ever any boats. It's Newtown Creek, 2002.
The city's Department of Transportation has made what seems like a small request concerning this forsaken three-mile-long waterway separating Queens from Brooklyn. It wants to turn the Grand Street swing bridge, one of the dozen that cross the creek, into a fixed structure.
Something that moves costs much more to maintain than something that doesn't, said Iris Weinshall, the transportation commissioner. And it has been years since a ship required the blue-green bridge, a rickety 1903 structure at the far end of the creek, to swing open.
"If there had been any recent openings, we'd say forget it, but there haven't been any," said Gary Kassof, bridge administrator for the First Coast Guard Division, which has jurisdiction over the creek. He was speaking of both the Grand Street bridge and all the deteriorating rail and road bridges across it.
But the Coast Guard's looming assent to this minor cost-cutting request is full of symbolism.
To make the Grand Street swing bridge a fixed structure will seal the fate of the waterway, rendering it impossible for ships to pass through. For a waterway that was the busiest industrial port in the Northeast 60 years ago, its waters continuously churned by a long line of boats, it would be an official death knell.
Newtown Creek is woven deeply into the city's history. Until the Dutch arrived, the Maspetches Indians lived along its banks in what is now Maspeth, Queens. Some believe that Captain Kidd used a friend's waterfront property there to stash his plunder. The creek was part of a boundary dispute from the mid- 1600's to the mid-1700's between Bushwick and Newtown, the precursors to Brooklyn and Queens.
But it was through commerce that the waterway came into its prime.
By the 1850's, the creek was an industrial center that both fueled and paralleled the explosive growth of New York. Glue factories, smelting and fat-rendering plants, one of the earliest kerosene refinery and other smelly enterprises clustered along the shores of the creek and its little tributaries. The toxic sludge from these businesses got company in 1856, when the city decided to dump raw sewage directly into the water, a practice that continued for decades.
In the 1920's and 30's, the creek was widened to accommodate the growing traffic. In its heyday, the bridges that crossed it opened tens of thousands of times a year.
"Newtown Creek was a highway," said Bernard Ente, a local historian. "It was just boats instead of trucks." He estimated that 500 enterprises lined the creek at its peak. Large boats brought in raw materials and fuel and took out oil, fat, varnish, chemicals and metals.
Then came World War II. The government commandeered the factories to make military equipment.
Francis Principe, 92, a Maspeth resident who supervised a factory that made aluminum for fighter planes, said that during that time, "There was always tanker traffic."
But then the creek began a rapid decline. The national highway system, built after World War II, made trucks a more efficient way to transport goods. Shippers no longer had to be tied to water routes or railways.
Now, buildings along the water stand empty. Instead of ships, plastic bags pass beneath the bridges like half-submerged ghosts. The remaining factories don't use the water.
But kayakers have been spotted at the creek recently, and Community Board 1 in Brooklyn is considering creating a series of pocket parks along the shore. The blue-claw crabs have come back, too.
Mr. Principe sees the writing on the wall. "If the D.O.T. closes down one bridge," he said, "then others will follow, and the creek's as good as gone." *
Here is the map from the Department of Transportation website
Another bridge over Newtown Creek...
Decision Due on Span
State weighing 4 plans for Kosciuszko Bridge
By DONALD BERTRAND
Daily News Staff Writer
The state Transportation Department is inching closer to deciding what to do with the Kosciuszko Bridge.
Options range "from an aggressive maintenance plan to a complete replacement of the structure," said DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson.
The plan was first made public in 1995, causing a stir in the communities adjacent to the bridge in Brooklyn and Queens.
Since then, the Transportation Department has continuously repaired the bridge, which has more than 170,000 vehicles using it daily.
The Kosciuszko Bridge carries the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway over Newtown Creek from Maspeth to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and connects to the Long Island Expressway on the Queens side.
"It is highly congested during rush hours, affecting conditions not only on the BQE, but local streets as well," Nelson said.
"We are at the point where we need to decide is what is the best course of action," the transportation spokeswoman said.
To help with that decision making, two open houses have been scheduled to inform the public about the various scenarios concerning the bridge's future, said Robert Adams, project manager.
The first will be in the auditorium of Public School 199 at 39-20 48th Ave. on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A second will be held in Brooklyn on Feb. 27 at St. Cecilia's Church, 84 Herbert St., also from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Adams said four scenarios are under consideration:
- Keeping the bridge as is with aggressive maintenance.
Rehabilitating the structure in kind.
Rehabilitating the structure with extra lanes.
Replacing the whole bridge.
"We have not begun a cost analysis yet," Adams said. That, he said, would be a part of the study.
"It would not be surprising to anyone here if the cost to just rehabilitate it was not much different from a complete replacement," said the project manager.
The Transportation Department has not ruled out anything, said Dolores Rizzotto, district manager of Community Board 2, which represents the West Maspeth area where the bridge is located.
Rizzotto said the scope of the project was extended to the 48th St. exit of the Long Island Expressway at the request of the community because of all the merges to the bridge at that point.
Dorothy Neary, an officer of the United Forties Civic Association, said her group plans to be at the meetings.
"Ever since Robert Moses built the Long Island Expressway and took half of our community away, we have been suffering. We want to make sure there is not another land grab and that something is done about the truck traffic on our residential streets," Neary said.
Original Publication Date: 2/19/02
February 15, 2004
NEW YORK WATERWAYS
Hike on Newtown Creek? It Isn't Quite That Awful
By JIM O'GRADY
Early in the 17th century, Dutch settlers bought a large piece of land from the Maspet Indian tribe along what is now known as Newtown Creek. The tribe, whose name survives in the Queens neighborhood Maspeth, might have been eager to make the deal, given that they called the area "at the bad water place."
It is not known why they disparaged the creek back then. But the reasons to do so now are plain. Despite being long past its prime as a shipping hub, Newtown Creek, which forms the northern border between Brooklyn and Queens, is a 4.3-mile waterborne theme park for the remnants of industrial abuse.
In fact, Alex Matthiessen, the executive director of Riverkeeper, an environmental group, said the creek was so polluted that "there is a defeatist attitude" about it in government agencies. Maureen Wren, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, disagreed, saying that it inspects facilities to make sure the water regulations are followed, investigates possible polluters and works to clean up contaminated sites.
But Riverkeeper has taken matters into its own hands. Two months ago, it sent letters to five companies that operate on the creek - a cement plant, a scrap yard, a beverage distributor, a construction supply company and a recycling plant - announcing that it planned to sue them for violating the federal Clean Water Act if each company did not at least come up with a cleanup plan by the end of December.
Although most of the companies denied any polluting, Mr. Matthiessen says the letter has gotten results.
One of the companies was Allocco Recycling, which decontaminates soil and pulverizes used concrete in a plant that abuts the creek at the end of Kingsland Avenue. Kenneth Reiss, a spokesman, said the company cooperated with Riverkeeper even though its operations were not harming the water. "We spent $150,000 to increase the size of our bulkhead and raise it up to prevent any further erosion," he said. "We even put netting underneath our outdoor conveyor belt."
Mr. Matthiessen is cheered by such actions, but said much more needs to be done. The creek is bordered by 160 properties, he said, and his group is sending out more letters.
Ms. Wren said the conservation department was cleaning up the Phelps Dodge site, which has been designated by the federal government as a highly toxic site, and pressed for a continuing $2 billion improvement to the large Newtown Creek Sewage Treatment Plant. As for Allocco Recycling, "D.E.C. did investigate that thoroughly,'' she said, and determined that "there were no discharge or outfalls.''
If these pollution fighters succeed, Bill Schuck, an art teacher and kayaker who lives on Commercial Street in Greenpoint, may be among the first to know. "There are slicks of garbage around where I put the kayak in," he said. "There might be condoms and wooden pallets floating in the water. Further down the creek, it gets really polluted and still."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Why can't they build bridges that are high enough for watercraft to pass beneath them? They should leave enough room for tugboats at least. That way the creek can stay open to barge traffic to surve industry.
Who knows? Maybe down the road we will see cabin cruisers and catamarans?
Originally Posted by CMANDALA
Clean it up. Move all non-essential to water industries to other indutrial parks in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, LIC, Maspeth, wherever. Create parks, shops, apartments, houses, etc.
3 1/2 miles is long and would be amazing if done right.
Anyone know of any plans in any way similar to this?
So...can you answer me?
Thanks. I appreciate it.
I might be interested in joining this tour.
I'm hoping to go but I remember there's a lot of things going on that weekend for me... I'll have to check.
Thanks, sounds interesting but unfortunately I'll be out of town.
CM: We're going. 2 people. The older one has two questions: what kind of boat is being used, and what kind of weather is within its tolerance?
Pardon my ignorance, but what does that mean?