Bowsprite: A New York Harbor Sketchbook

digester eggs of newtown creek

Posted in Uncategorized by bowsprite on 2012/04/08

The digester eggs and the walkway/observation deck are a sci-fi aluminum grey, but I was in an aubergine mood today.

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant has been in operation since 1967. Eight eggs sit on top of 54 acres of sewage plant area through which flow 200 to 310 million gallons of wastewater per day.

What artists these eggs are in the company of!

Etched in granite are the Native American names for these places. Carved into the steps of the kayak launch are the archaeological periods we have somehow survived (with little barnacles and mussels wedged into the steps. Probably zebra mussels, so don’t feel bad for ‘em.) And there is a fragrance garden that is wheelchair accessible, but sorry, nothing for the olfactory-challenged.

A relief of the Newtown Creek, pre-European days, is etched deeply into tilted granite so  rainwater can fill it and flow.  Two metal engraved maps of the areas set into another granite table. One depicts the industrial history from 1887 – 1951 (their source is  Sanborn Maps.) Lime, tin, barrelmaking, oil, gas, petroleum, shipyard, rope and line storage, grinding, dyeing, asphalt, paving, bricks, lumber, stones, iron and bronze works, welding, chemical, box factory, hat and tie company, steam laundry: these are labels on the first map. The dark line delineates the bulkhead.  In the second map, courtesy of the DEP 2008, the dark lines are shrubs. (Who are the artists, please?)

These artists, New York Shitty, are right on the mark: the free-association of eggs, droppings and Nature Walk of purgative plants made me laugh.

Digester eggs Jello art. I am in awe: Gold medal. We know the Jell-o Plant was here (animal carcasses=bone gelatin), thank you Newtown Pentacle.

And this artist–No Pots, Just Paintings–got it. The combination of the eggs and the onion top of the Russian Orthodox churches in the neighborhood are perfect. Alas, s/he is so terse, there’s no information on the artist.

Evocative photos of Newtown Creek here.  Just a stone’s throw across the Newtown Creek is the graffitti mecca, closed for a year during which it was ‘nearly destroyed by vandals’ (developers?)

The official site of the eggs is here, but the others are just more fun, and for thoroughness (fun, history, photos, philosophy, black humor) no one can beat the Newtown Pentacle!

Thank you, Tugster, who put together the combination of digester eggs and Easter, and made it so FUN! a hoppy one to all!

CoastLink Hamburg

Posted in Uncategorized by bowsprite on 2011/05/25

Many, many heartfelt thanks to CoastLink and David Cheslin, Gavin Roser, Antje Wiechern, and Margaret Williamson! Coastlink (headquarters in the UK) is an organization dedicated to the promotion of short sea and feeder container shipping in Europe. An incredibly informative conference was held in Hamburg last month, with presentations from major ports and a few new start-up ports. Representatives from ports in the Mediterranean/North Africa, Russia as well as several ones in Germany spoke.  To hear what was happening in short sea shipping today in Europe was eye-opening and borderline deflating, for we are so very behind in this country.

How many out there would like to band together to purchase a few cranes and open a little port near the train station? On a  large and professional scale, the Port of Workington did it.

David invited me to speak a bit on New York Harbour as Hamburg is facing the same issues of accommodating the new PanaMax containerships; they lack the air draft problem but have the water depth and dredging issues. It was an educational experience the whole way: a thumbdrive is a “USB stick.” And to them, a torch is allowed onboard: it’s a flashlight, not the open flaming thing we hunt monsters with in the woods. And I will present soon other things I learned from CoastLink. Thank you, again, David and Everyone!

Here is the slide show I presented:

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I am an illustrator and have a blog on NYHarbor where I put up stories:

I am also a part-time deck hand on this hydrographic survey vessel.

This auspicious image…

…started off my surveying adventures: the single-beam sonar caught our boat’s wheel wash and the bottom below.

We have surveyed all around this island…

There is water access all around the island of Manhattan, into the boroughs of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, connecting New Jersey, and out the Long Island Sound.
To the north runs the Hudson, up the incredible locks of the New York State and Champlain canals. Access to the Finger Lakes region is through the NYS Canal system that is 524 miles long.

Westward are the indomitable salt marshes, the silting arteries of the Passaic  and Hackensack, the very busy Kill van Kull and Arthur Kill, the Raritan river which once connected us to Delaware via a canal now long gone.

Passaic (80 mi/129 km)

Hackensack (45 mi/72 km)

Kill van Kull (3 mi/(4.8 km)

Arthur Kill (10 mi/16 km,)

Raritan river (16 mi/25.7 km)

The East river mingles with the Bronx River, and flows out into the mighty Long Island Sound and beyond. Or, runs inland as the Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal. Out the Narrows, the waters flow through Jamaica Bay, Sandy Hook…and out to sea.

East river (16 mi/26 km)

Bronx River(24 miles/39 km)

Newtown Creek (3.5 mi /6 km)

Gowanus Canal (1.4 mi/2.3 km)

Hackensack, Hoboken, Navesink, Lackawanna, Passaic, Raritan, Secaucus, Weehawken… these names tell me where these places are. However, to the Native American tribes who lived here, these names also described the water, which would reveal the food that was to be found there: the fish, the flora, the animals. And as nothing was wasted, it would also mean tools, skins and furs. Water, food, clothing, shelter: all are human necessities. The ships that ply our waters do bring clothing and materials to make shelter. However, food is not transported by water here: it is all flown and trucked in, most of it is brought to one place.

We have a ‘warehouse on wheels’ model. Whatever we need, we call in and order. Our stores operate the same way: including food stores.

“…there is less than a week’s supply of food in the entire food chain, while consumers—in contrast to America before 1960—hold less than a week’s worth of food at home…In their refrigerators.”

We depend upon the fact that the bridges will stay standing, the tunnels will remain clear, and that the roads that lead into the city will not be overwashed by storm surge. And that trucks can continue to roll in, rumbling over the abused bridges, tunnels and roads, burning fossil fuels in thick snarled traffic, beating up the infrastructure even more, and releasing pollutants into the air.

There are initiatives to bring regionally-grown produce into the New York Metropolitan area by water (please see “Alliances” for some of their links). The longest in the game have been the NY Soil and Water Conservancy, The Lower Hudson – Long Island RC&D Council with the USDASustainable Ports, HARVEST, Floating Food, the ShipCoop and others have joined either forces and resources or are working independently, and the number of good people with the desire to contribute to the cause is growing.

Of the models being discussed, the one which is the closest to being assembled and set into action is clean tug and barge work.
Roughly 60% of the tugs in the harbor are involved solely with petroleum transportation by barge, 30% do ship/barge-assist, and perhaps 10% move other things: aggregates (sand, gravel & stone), cement, scrap metal, paper recyclables, dredge spoils.

The tugs and barges are ready.  In some cases there are ships which would be better suited for the job. For example, Ro-Ro’s onto which trucks can be driven and transported. Passenger ferries with freight-carrying capabilities, would another model. However, we have many beautiful old single screw tugs, historic tugs all along the Hudson and up into the NYS Canal System that could take on the shipping work right away.

There are many obstacles, of which the large subsidies to trucking is the hardest to beat. Maintenance of truck-abused roads, bridges, and tunnels, and the costs of traffic congestion, air and water pollution, and accidents: these are all , or mostly, externalized costs not factored into the user-end price of trucking that is paid by a cargo consignee or the retail price of goods and services paid by consumers. A good report is here, published by the US Government Accountability Office “Surface Freight Transportation – A Comparison of the Costs of Road, Rail and Waterways Freight Shipments That Are Not Passed on to Consumers.”

An undeniable physical barrier is that which surrounds Manhattan: walled off waterfronts with no where to tie up:

We have the bollards, but they are lawn furniture.

Where there was once active piers, docks and slips, there is now crumbling remains.

And new construction does not have room for the working vessels. Unless it is a yacht.

Pier 57 was once an engineering marvel: a pier that was built upon three giant concrete blocks, used to receive ship passengers. And today? Abandoned.

The old warehouses of Erie Basin once stored sugar, grain, cotton, spices, flax, hemp, jute, wood, indigo, india rubber, leather, dried fruit, seeds, tobacco,
cocoa, coffee. They also let you drop your cobblestones ship ballast for a fee. Put in your application here today.

All along the waterfront you will find places that once welcomed passenger or cargo laden ships which now no longer do. If the infrastructure to dock a vessel is lacking, we will refit old landing crafts and pull ourselves upon the shore to unload goods. Except that there is hardly any  ground upon which to land. U Thant Island is taken.

Until recently, the waterfront was incredibly important and active:



A good write up is to be found here from Fordham University on how this was lost. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 created the Interstate Highway and Defense Highways, essentially a massive subsidy to trucking (the least efficient means of freight transportation that exists besides air freight), relegating rail and shipping to second-class status.

Railroad cars once floated across the river, bringing in raw materials from the hinterlands and sending off manufactured goods back. The Erie Lackawanna terminal, hemmed in by development, has been beautiful preserved and will one day serve as a ferry slip, but is currently used more for film and photoshoots.

The NYNJRail, is the only cross-harbor rail barge service left. Once, hundreds of these carfloats would traverse the harbor daily. Keep an eye out for the Cross Harbor Freight Program.

Perhaps the most beautiful building in the harbor is the Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal.

Kudos to NJ for preserving this site, which is now on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Passengers and goods once travelled inland: today, it is a quiet sanctuary, living proof of Nature’s indefatigable force. Nothing we make–with all our might!–is going to last.

Everywhere around the harbor, testaments to the once-productivity of this city are to be found. The Domino Sugar factory is being condominumized.

Old factories built to last, last. But the industries themselves have not.Even upriver,  one can pass by abandoned plants, like the Adirondack Power and Light Company,

or this unnamed carpet factory. Mills, lumberyard, factories have all closed and the towns have never fully recovered from the loss of work.

Small family owned stores that were once plentiful and placed about in neighborhoods have been forced out, replaced by the Walmarts and KMarts which require a car to reach. Public transportation to the megacomplexes do not exist. The youth, lacking ways to getting to the malls, have no easy ways of earning wages, nor any venues in which to social. Gang activity is high in some towns.

The Henry Street Grain Elevator stands behind tanks,

and the old Todd Ship Yard cranes are now decorations for the IKEA shoppers to pass as they park over the largest graving dock that was filled in for their cars.

The loss of industry affects the maritime industry. There was once great a demand for tugs and experienced crews to run them. In the last two years, we lost two women-owned local tug companies.

What, then, does this city produce?

Garbage. Recyclables. Babies.

And  wastes. Here is the Dept of Environmental Protection‘s “honeyboat” bringing sludge from the Newtown Creek to the 134st dewatering plant. The human wastes are treated, dried, pelletized and sold for fertilizer for non-organic salad growers. Yet another reason to go organic.

So, that is what this city produces.

There is shipping activity, and even some short sea shipping activity: small containers on barge.

Oil is moved about, in barges or in small tankers.

Cruise ships, ferries, water taxis, tourist boats are on the water.

The fishing industry is active.

Recreational vessels abound, to the chagrin of the working mariner. Kayakers, swimmers all go in the drink.

Government vessels like this Army Corps of Engineer Driftmaster constantly ply the waters. Coast guard, harbor police (“Harbor Charlie”), buoy tenders, ice breakers drift or speed by.

Restoration of historic vessels is also active. This old lightship is now a popular bar and restaurant.

There is no shortage of dredges, scows and their tugs and supply boats.

The Kill van Kull  (kill is ‘creek’ in dutch) was once at a natural depth of 15-18′, and home to rich beds of oysters, clams, and fishes, surrounded by salt marshlands. Today, this major shipping channel has been dredged to 50′ below mean low water.

The Army Corps of Engineers, with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has been working on the Harbor Deepening Project since the 1980′s. They have had to contend with a bottom made of soft and stiff clays, red shale, serpentine rock, glacial till, and granite. Different kinds of dredges are used for the different materials.

This cutter suction head was used to drill through hard bedrock as an alternative to blasting. For videos of how this works, view these dredge animations on the ACOE site.

Here is one of three spare cutter heads, with a total of 52 teeth in each of the helical jaws. The cost of a tooth (which weighs 16 kg / 35lbs) is between $150 and $180 each, depending on size and manufacturer.In the wheelhouse is a large heavy black cabinet which sometimes shakes, vibrates and ‘walks’ around as the cutter head grinds through the incredibly hard bedrock, and at the end of the 12-hr shift, several of the men have to move it back.

Many thanks to Capt. Bill Miller and Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., and Tugster for the dredge photos.

Where does the dredge spoil go?  as it is contaminated with PCB’s, special environmental buckets and scows are required to transport the spoil. Some of it is mixed with ash and concrete, and turned into landfill. For more information, you can download reports from the USACOE Dredged Material Management Plan for The Port of New York and the State of New Jersey.

Two golf courses have been created with dredge spoil: the Bayonne Golf Club, above, is an exclusive “scottish link” design. Liberty National is the other one.

Thanks to the ACOE of our and our army of dredgers, draft is not an obstacle to short sea shipping within the Harbor.

The air draft is however, an issue for some containerships. The air draft beneath the beautiful Bayonne Bridge varies with the tide between 151 and 156 feet.
(It was the longest steel arch bridge in the world when it opened on Nov. 15, 1931. Look for her sister bridge in the film, The King’s Speech, hanging in the office of Lionel Logue!)

$1.3 billion has been approved to raise this bridge up to 215 feet; and engineers intend to raise it while simultaneously keeping the bridge open to traffic. Many believe the project is necessary in order to accommodate larger container ships being built in anticipation of the widening of the Panama Canal in 2014. Here is the ACOE’s very thorough 69page reconnaissance report, created in 2009, the Bayonne Bridge Air Draft Analysis.

However, there are many who believe the raising of the bridge is an unwise use of money when there are better options.

“…Unlike the European Union, the United States does not have a comprehensive port plan therefore each port on the East Coast, from Florida to Nova Scotia is competing for the next generation of very large container ships. Instead of designating certain ports with deep unobstructed facilities as feeder or hub ports, and creating a fleet of very fast smaller ships to move container cargo to less accessible, but no less important ports in a coordinated way – US ports are competing with each other by building duplicate facilities for the few very large ships that are likely to call on East Coast Ports in the next twenty years.

When the Army transferred the Military Ocean Terminal Bayonne (MOTBY) to the City of Bayonne, those of us with an interest in the port, dredging, and the environment were heartened by the plans that included a state of the art container terminal for the largest of the ships that may call on the Port of NY and NJ (the so called post Panamax 10,000 teu container ships). The Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority (BLRA) asserted that they would bring a port developer on board who would raise $500 million for a new container port, bringing with it more than 3000 jobs.

Not only could the former MOTBY be the closest port to deep channels – it will save billions of public dollars, avoid the height limitations of the Bayonne Bridge, and reduce the significant environmental impacts that will be caused by continuing to attempt to deepen the dangerous, narrow Kill Van Kull, and dredging more of the contaminated sediments of Newark Bay – the new port on the Harbor side of Bayonne, could be built using the newest most efficient container management technology including alternative fuel and electric vehicles, and direct transfer of containers from ship to trains or ships to container barges, or ships to container rail cars on barges.

The additional benefit of a new container port at MOTBY is its juxtaposition to the Global Terminals, and the Greenville rail yards. The MOTBY Port also creates a cross harbor synergy if the “cross harbor float” system is re-invigorated as is envisioned by the Port Authority of NY and NJ the new owners of the Cross Harbor Railroad. Taking all that into account, MOTBY is the premiere maritime asset in the Harbor and one of the most valuable maritime properties in the world.

The (pre-real estate meltdown) plan proposed by the Bayonne Redevelopment Authority (dubbed the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor) is for high rise housing and offices, with a yacht harbor in the last huge graving (dry) dock in the harbor, and only a minimum amount of port commerce space, what appears to be one cruise ship berth…”

excerpt from Bridging the Gap by Andrew Willner

An obstacle to short sea shipping is the lack of many small ports distributed about, and the lack of infrastructure: piers, docks, cranes, ramps, storage facilities. Pictured above are the ports we have, and a very good listing of all the port facilities and their facts can be found here.

In NYHarbor, it is illegal to handle cargo without going through the International Longshoremen’s Association. I believe the going rate is $250 a lift: taking a container off a ship and setting it on wheels. Rolling and then transferring the container onto a smaller vessel would be another $250. Depending on where the vessel would be going, it might almost be worth it.

Jones Act. I’m not able to hold any sort of discourse on this complex subject but I surely can refer you to good people who can, and who would argue very intelligently for both sides of the case: those who want to upkeep the Jones Act to protect American workers and shipyards, and those who want to repeal or amend the Act to allow cheaper, foreign built ships to operate.

I can only say that if the Jones Act was completely repealed, many of my friends would be out of work, unable to compete with trained, cheap foreign labor, and we would lose what little manufacturing knowledge and ability we have.

Above: Union Dry Dock, before a captive audience.

More obstacles: policies that stack all odds against water transportation and lack of funds to change policy.

MARAD does not recognize the Hudson River, canal systems and the Sound as corridors, and will not approve new project designees until funding becomes available; MARAD will advise when they are accepting submitals. A meeting with the City Council revealed that they would like to see an full economitive study or white paper on watertransportation of regional produce, but do not have the funds to support one. The USDA has zero’d out all funds for the Hudson River Foodway Corridor initiative for this year. Coffers are bare.

dear Rigmor from Bornholm DK stands in front of a MARSEC sign at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Alternating between an (expensive) inconvenience to an absolute obstacle could be the tight security the government imposes upon all marine actions. At the time of this talk, the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) was in place, but has since been replaced. Which is good, because they never did use the blue or the green Level plates. They probably did not even have them made. The fear and suspicion that 9/11′s acts of terrorism has inculcated into law enforcement has affected all mariners, and affects even the workings of maritime photographers and sketchers with big drawing pads.

Dept Homeland Security’s TWIC program (Transportation Workers Identity Card) is a redundundant ID card, issued by Lockheed Martin, and not terribly popular with some mariners, as compiled here. You cannot move about waterfront areas without one, but you cannot move anywhere with one, either.

“The National Terrorism Advisory System, or NTAS, replaces the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). This new system will more effectively communicate information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, airports and other transportation hubs, and the private sector.”

Though not an obstacle as much as a frustration, new piers are being constructed for strolling of park goers and not for working mariners. However, it is a wonderful, hopeful beginning. It would be very good if those with funding to build such projects would consult with marine experts. Understandably, as park piers were not initially constructed with marine industry in mind, we’re happy with what we get.

Eagerly awaited new piers have large yokohama fenders appropriate for big ships hanging over water of depths of 6 to 10m. Tiny gates too small for ship brows and ramps are placed in front of pile clusters and bollards, and pier furniture blocks the entrances. However, they absolutely do deserve praise for building piers.

Crumbling, yet working, piers is what you will find in the Newtown Creek and the Gownus Canal:

“One of the most polluted industrial sites in America…containing years of discarded toxins, an estimated 30 million gallons of spilled oil, and raw sewage from New York City’s sewer system.  Newtown Creek was proposed as a potential Superfund site in September 2009,  and received that designation on September 27, 2010…Since there is no current in the creek, sludge has congealed into a 15-foot-thick (4.6 m) layer of “black mayonnaise” on the creek bed.”

3.5 mi (6 km) long, the Newtown Creek has vessel traffic going to the fuel tanks, pumping stations, waste treatment facilities, and recycling facilities.

Excavated in 1881 for commercial shipping and barge traffic, the Gowanus Creek became the Gowanus Canal. Lined with small industries and neighboring residential areas with chic bars and restaurants, it is a navigable channel: 7,500′ long, 100′ wide, and of depths from 4′ to 16′.

For over a hundred years, oil refineries, machine shops, gas and chemical plants, soap makers and tanneries all indiscriminately dumped industrial pollutants; compounded with discharges, storm water runoff, and sewer outflows, this water body ranks as the nation’s most extensively contaminated, pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to designate the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site on 2 March 2010. Read more on the ACOE’s Gowanus Canal and Bay Restoration Study.

However, the bridges work: here is a well-organized listing of the bridges. A call to the USDOT at (201) 400–5243 at least 4 hours in advance will insure that an operator is there to open the Hamilton Avenue Bridge, unless it is under maintenance.

According to the New York State Highway Bridge Data, “Based upon data submitted to the Federal Highway Administration in April 2010, about 12 percent of the highway bridges in New York State are classified, under the broad federal standards, as structurally deficient and about 25 percent are classified as functionally obsolete… ”

The incredible New York Canal System is an inland waterway that runs 524 miles into NY State, connecting the Hudson River, Lakes Champlain, Ontario and the Finger Lakes, the Niagara River and Lake Erie, passing through 25 counties and close to 200 villages, hamlets and towns. Depth and height restrictions are found here.

The locks are well-built and well-cared for, maintaining the equipment seems to be a source of pride with the operators. If the power went out, the locks would still work. “It would take 6 of us,” one man told me, “but we’d get you through.” Look here at Tug44‘s homage to the beautiful equipment and machinery!

There are many small regional farms located near water. We have the best land for producing dairy, and yet large subsidies to giant agribusinesses make milk from states across the continent ubiquitous and cheaper in the stores. The land upstate produces the best apples, yet in stores, apples from Washington state are trucked in and carried.

As one observer said at an Outdoors America conference on supporting upstate farms: “This IS a homeland defense issue!”

But the challenges goad us into being more resourceful:

(source unknown: pls notify us of owner of this photo, thank you)

if these good fellows had TWIC cards, we’d be set.

(source unknown: ditto)

And, we are willing to try anything. We might even have to go to the Big Guy: maybe Santa would let us charter his rig for off-season rates so we could ship by reindeer and sleigh:

photo: Bill Bensen

all other photos either by Capt Joel Milton or Christina Sun©2011

I have two other wonderful hosts to thank: Vielen danke e grazie to Hamburg urban planner and lighting designer,  Mario Bloem e Donata for food, shelter, technology and true friendship–

Mario: “No, Christina. NO more than 30 slides, otherwise it will be like those friends who show you their vacation photos, and if you bore them, it will be bad karma.”

Oops.

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