Environmental

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As I’m sure all of you Q’Stoners are aware, a devastating earthquake in Nepal has shattered the landscape and left thousands dead. A round-the-clock vigil has been under way for a few days on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, which is home to much of New York City’s Nepali community.

Yesterday, I walked over from Astoria to visit with our neighbors in their time of need and offer condolences. I was lucky enough to speak to some members of the Hyolmo Youth Club while I was there.

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Back in 2013, I wrote a Q’Stoner post about Hallets Cove that offered “Two aboriginal realtors named Shawestcont and Erramorhar (as witnessed by their cohorts Warchan and Kethcanaparan) sold much of what we know as Astoria (but which they called Sintsinck) to William Hallett (who was similarly accompanied by a company of witnesses and countrymen) on August 1, 1664.”

The East River frontage — back then it was called the Sound River — which Hallet purchased had a huge waterbody intersecting with the shoreline from upland properties in what we would now call Ravenswood, and it was called Sunswick Creek.

According to the Greater Astoria Historical Society the name of the waterway can be explained as “A drained marsh near the foot of Broadway. Scholars believe it may come from an Indian word ‘Sunkisq’ meaning perhaps ‘Woman Chief’ or ‘Sachem’s Wife.'” For close to 250 years, Sunswick Creek was practically synonymous with this area of Queens, but what happened to it?

More after the jump…

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One day last spring, I was walking down Jackson Avenue towards Astoria when I found myself in the midst of a flock of pigeons who were pecking away at the sidewalk and doing – y’know – pigeon stuff. Nothing unusual about that, and the sort of thing that New Yorkers barely even notice. What grabbed my attention, however, was that one of these critters was sporting plumage of the scarlet and golden variety, which is decidedly uncommon. A fancy that this might be some sort of Buddhist Monk Pigeon or X-Man was entertained briefly, but then again I’m sort of an idiot.

More after the jump…

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Above is an aerial shot of my beloved Newtown Creek, as seen from the Empire State Building. You’ll notice the Pulaski Bridge crossing the water in the lower third of the shot and the Kosciuszko Bridge in the upper third. That’s LIC on the left, and Greenpoint on the right. On the Queens side, you can see the LIRR yard at Hunters Point and the LIE snaking eastwards away from the Midtown Tunnel. What you don’t see is something that nobody who is alive today has ever seen, and that’s Jack’s Creek – a filled in tributary of Newtown Creek that traveled inland for quite a way.

What? You don’t know Jack? More after the jump…

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Last Friday, I am told, the temperature was twelve degrees fahrenheit. It would hard for me to comment on it, as my entire body was so thoroughly numb that it would be a lie to suggest that I felt anything at all. Warm, cold, happy, sad… toes… nothing.

There was a twenty mile an hour wind blowing, and when the TV Weather Lady said that it would feel like negative eight degrees on unprotected skin, she was right. Last Friday (and this seems to happen to me each and every February) I found myself standing at the shoreline of the East River on the second coldest day of the year (so far, at least). You will notice, it is trusted, the vast amount of ice in the river? Brrr.

An interesting event was underway, organized by an LIC area group which calls itself HarborLAB, is why I found myself at Hunters Point South Park, at the East River shoreline on the second coldest day of the year (well, so far, at least). Have I mentioned the cold? This was Viking Apocalypse cold. You either had to be crazy dedicated to be out here, or just plain crazy.

More after the jump…

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Famously, the City of Greater New York possesses what is known as a “combined sewer” system. We’re not unique, many of the East Coast cities of the United States manage their waste water in a similar fashion. “Combined” indicates that sanitary (toilet water, kitchen sink etc.) waste water travels underground in the same pipes that carry storm water and snow melt. In comparison, the younger cities of the West Coast – Los Angeles, for instance – have distinct infrastructure for sanitary and storm. In our case, during rain events, the combined flow often gets released into area waterways like the East River or my beloved Newtown Creek. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection – DEP – does what it can to keep that from happening, but a quarter inch of rain citywide translates into a billion gallons of water roaring around under the streets. Fixing this situation is a municipal Gordian Knot, and would involve a massive investment in infrastructure that would raise your water bills so high that you’d happily pay $5 a liter for bottled water. I’m told that DEP has a long term plan they’re working on, which will play out over several decades, to ameliorate the issue.

That’s the setting for today’s tale, wherein I’d like to point out a seldom noticed bit of street/sewer infrastructure.

More after the jump…

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I’ve told you all about Maspeth Creek before, but long story short is that it’s a tributary of Newtown Creek with big history and even bigger problems. On the history front, how many places can you name in Queens that British Commander Lord Cornwallis could have been hanging around during the 1770s?

I’m always hunting around the web for historic photos and maps of Western Queens and of Newtown Creek in particular. This past weekend, nearly an entire Sunday was lost exploring the amazing nyc.gov map site offered by the NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications. The NY City Map allows you to turn various informational layers on and off – showing you transit locations, and healthcare centers, and parks of course – but what I find really interesting about the site is that they have aerial views from several “moments” in NYC history packaged in a modern digital map.

More after the jump…

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Friends have mentioned that there’s a group of people who regularly fish the waters of Halletts Cove, found on the East River coastline here in Astoria on Vernon Boulevard between 31st Avenue and 30th Drive. People fish all over the New York Harbor, of course, and will even dip a hooked line into my beloved Newtown Creek while seeking dinner – if you can believe that. Environmental officialdom sets forth a series of recommendations and rules for the consumption of fish and invertebrates captured hereabouts, which you can read for yourself right here. The same information is presented to you when obtaining a fishing license, which the folks in Albany presume the lady in the shot above has obviously attained. There are a couple of signs found at Halletts Cove advising against fishing here, but these signs are in English, and this is Astoria.

As you might guess from the clothing worn by the woman in the shot above, English is likely not her native tongue, and an attempt I made at conversation with her confirmed that assumption.

She had several traps played out in the water, of the type which you’d use to snare “killies” or minnows — this sort of thing. Friends who frequent this spot have told me that this lady, and several others, are harvesting fish from the East River on a regular if not daily basis.

More after the jump…

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Oil on Newtown Creek is an old story, but when there are fresh rainbow colors like you see in the shot of Dutch Kills above, there’s nothing historic about it. That’s newly released material, and it’s been a big problem all summer.

First, for those of you unfamiliar with the place, Dutch Kills is Long Island City’s own tributary of Newtown Creek. Its junction with the main body of the Creek is found roughly .8 of a mile from the East River, and it terminates at 47th Avenue – just a block or so away from the Citigroup building on Jackson Avenue at Thomson.

Throughout the summer of 2014, reports of fresh oil sheens have been reported along Newtown Creek. My colleague in the Newtown Creek Alliance, Greenpoint’s Will Elkins, has documented this event, and interacted with NYS Department of Environmental Conservation investigators to determine the point source from which this material is emanating.

Yesterday, the DEC found that point source on Dutch Kills, and probably found the polluter who has been illegally dumping literally thousands of gallons of oil directly into the water all summer.

More after the jump…

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On Friday, the 11th of July, I found myself at the very edge of Queens in a very special place. At the end of Vernon Boulevard in LIC, where the old Vernon Avenue Bridge and the Newtown Creek Towing Company were found, is a facility which is engaged in the hands-on work of the Superfund process. The Anchor QEA company operates out of here, carrying out the collection of samples and scientific tests which will determine the exact nature of what’s wrong with Newtown Creek. These samples and tests are overseen and directed by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, and is an effort conducted by the so-called “Potentially Responsible Parties” (PRPs).

These “Potentially Responsible Parties” have organized themselves together as the Newtown Creek Group, and they invited a small group of community members and representatives to their LIC facility to describe what they actually do at the Vernon street end and discuss the future of Newtown Creek.

More after the jump…