Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our Winter Home

As of today, the boat is safely enclosed in her winter home and we've already begun seasonal repairs.  We'll be keeping you updated with what we're up to!

The Fletcher before being enclosed.
This is a much improved, free-standing structure as compared to what we used last winter. 
Hey, where'd the boat go!?
View from the inside

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Oil Spill... In Queens

Cross-posted from the Newtown Pentacle
- photo by Mitch Waxman (February 16, 2009) 
Sadly, oil is seeping out of a bulkhead on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek.
Famously, the Greenpoint Oil Spill (click here for a link to newtowncreekalliance.org for more) occurred just across the water from this spot, but every indication points to this as being a separate event. The former site of Charles Pratt’s Queens County Oil Works, which was an approximately 18 acre parcel which would later be called the “Standard Oil Blissville works”, the sites occupation in modernity has little or nothing to do with petroleum.
Welcome, by the way, to Newtown Creek- and to the “Blissville Oil Spill”.
Just a note: For the purposes of this posting, I’m departing from the normal formatting, and the photos are presented along with the dates upon which they were captured.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (September 14, 2008)
My practice for the last several years has been to shoot everything I see along the Newtown Creek, whether or not it seems significant at the time. This practice evolved out of the paucity of photographic documentation of the place which survived the 20th century, and the effort has been made with the notion of leaving behind something for future researchers to work with. As time has gone by, and my technological capabilities have expanded, I’ve developed quite a library of shots.
The photo above depicts the site in question during the autumn of 2008, and shows the historic condition of the bulkheads.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (September 14, 2008)
A standard codex for interpreting what one sees along the Newtown Creek states that wooden bulkheads are 19th century, reinforced concrete dates from the early to mid 20th, and steel plating is late 20th and early 21st century. This rule is not “scientific” but allows one to approximate the manufacture of these fallen docks to a relative time period. As you can observe in the shot above, the risible decay of the wooden bulkheads, and their manner of construction, speak to a long period of disuse and lack of maintenance as far as September of 2008.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (February 20, 2010)
In the winter of 2010, a crew began to install modern steel plating along this frontage, which drew my interest. Again, anything that is in a state of flux along the waterway is a point of interest for me. This project went on for several months, and was conducted from a barge with a small crane installed on it.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (February 4, 2011)
By the same period a year later, in February of 2011, the modern installation was complete. Conflicting reports on this style of bulkhead are often heard. The older wooden structures offer a structure for biological organisms to nest and shelter, but “slow” the already tepid flow of water through the narrow passages of the Creek. The steel ones “quicken” the flow, but offer no toeholds for organic life.
Modern day, (December 2011) google maps screen capture, click here or the image above for the dynamic google map. This is an industrial cul de sac today, accessed by a private driveway. The companies which use this space are largely waste management oriented, warehouse operations, furniture refinishing, or other truck based businesses. Despite the presence of freight tracks through the middle of the site, few of these companies utilize their sidings. Calvary Cemetery and the Kosciuszko Bridge loom large and distinguish the area.
The oil tanks in the center of the site betray the presence of the “Queens County Oil Works” of Charles Pratt, which were also known as the “Standard Oil Blissville Works”. Blissville, of course, is the historic name of this part of Queens which was once a residential area.
Clear plans of the area in 1936 overlaid with the 1924 aerial projection from NYCityMap. Click here to see a large version of the overlay.
Detail view of the area, click here for larger incarnation. The works were here as late as 1951, but at this point, I still haven’t been able to confirm the date they were closed down.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2011)
In the summer of 2011, I was tasked with photographing a “Bulkhead Survey” which members of the Newtown Creek Alliance were conducting. The good folks at Riverkeeper volunteered to take our party out on the Newtown Creek onboard their patrol boat, and when we were passing by the former Queens County Oil Works, we noticed the presence of both containment booms on the water and petroleum product flowing freely from the shoreline itself.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2010)
The theory which has been advanced by knowledgeable sources is that when the steel bulkheads were installed, a process in which the plating is slid down into place and then secured, and that a sealed chamber or buried pipeline was likely ruptured during the construction process which freed “the product”.
I have been asked to mention (by Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper itself) that investigation of the situation is underway, and the State and City officials responsible for policing this sort of thing are fully and enthusiastically engaged in the process.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2010)
The story of Charles Pratt, his “Astral Oil”, and their involvement with John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust will be discussed in a later posting on this subject, as the lengthy history would divert attention from this otherwise serious issue. Suffice to say that the Blissville works were some 18 acres in size, and suffered several “total loss” fires in the late 19th century.
Note that this is a distinct property (and event) from the adjacent State Superfund site which is referred to as the Quanta Resources site.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)
Again onboard a Riverkeeper patrol, this time in November of 2011, the overt visual presence and subtle aroma of petroleum was encountered. The black and yellow structure is what is known as a hard boom, and is designed to contain surface contamination and “floatables”. It extends to a few inches below the surface.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)
The steel plating at the site is painted with oil, undoubtedly splashed up by wave action during storms at high tide. The white objects which are saturated with petroleum products are absorbent booms, designed to wick up the free floating product.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)
The leaves in the shot above are literally stuck into the gluey residues of the oil. You can see the high tide mark left by the water on the cleaner bulkhead which is just beyond the hard boom. Perhaps this is the source of oil, which many have reported to me over the course of the last year, which has been witnessed as it floats toward the East River.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)
It is not news that there are environmental contaminants floating freely in this troubled waterway, nor is there any revelation to be found in the fact that petroleum products are commonly observed pooling and flowing about the Newtown Creek watershed.
What is news is that this is in Queens.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2011)
Much of the attention, and deservedly so because of the large and growing population of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, which Newtown Creek receives is all about Brooklyn. The north shore of the Creek in Queens is often left out of discussion (and from both remediation and environmental benefits funding)  because of its relatively tiny population and industrial character. One of the questions which this blog has asked since day one has been “Who can guess all there is, that might be buried down there?”.
In the case of the Blissville Oil spill, the question might as well be “How much there might be?”.
- photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)
This is just the beginning of a new Newtown Creek story, the tale of the Blissville Oil Spill. I fear it will be the first of many such stories, as we move into the Superfund era.
Cross-posted from the Newtown Pentacle

Monday, December 05, 2011


Another busy season on the river is behind us! We hauled out this past Friday, and while we're certainly sad to be back on land, we'll be back in the water before you know it!

Read about what an epic season we had here and here.

The Fletcher being lifted out of the water.

Check out all that growth on the bottom!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Haverstraw Bay Sunset

With sunsets like this, we're going to be mighty sad to haul the boat out of the river on Friday.  We took this in Haverstraw Bay on our way back to the boatyard. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Sparkill Watershed Alliance!

This week the Sparkill Watershed Alliance (SWA) celebrated it's 1st Anniversary with a gathering at Aleksandra Becnel's creek-side home, the perfect setting!

A handful of the Sparkill Watershed Alliance members celebrating!

(Right to Left) SWA Founder, Laurie Seeman, yours truly and Sparkill Creek

The Sparkill Creek is the only site in Riverkeeper's Water Quality Testing Study where water quality samples are collected from the land, not from the patrol boat. The surprisingly poor water quality we found in the Sparkill (it's the most frequently contaminated site in our study) inspired Rockland County clean water advocate Laurie Seeman to form a citizen alliance to learn more about the Sparkill and address its pollution problems.

Since its first meetings in the fall of 2010, the Sparkill Watershed Alliance has launched a number of initiatives to promote, protect and study this precious natural resource. They collaborate with legislators, educators, wastewater treatment plant representatives, and state and local agencies to achieve their clean water goals.

In collaboration with Riverkeeper's Water Quality Program, SWA is conducting an expanded, citizen-led water quality study on the creek. Our shared goal is to identify the source(s) of the sewage contamination in the creek and clean them up.

SWA collecting water samples from the New Jersey arm of the creek

SWA members collecting samples from a site in Tappan, NY

John explaining how the samples will be incubated and scored for sewage contamination levels

The Sparkill Watershed Alliance is documenting and studying the creek with other tools as well, working towards a Sparkill Watershed Report Card. With Butch Rosenfeld, a staff scientist with the NYC DEP, they have been collecting and studying macro-invertebrates, another indicator of water quality conditions.

Collecting samples from the creek in Tackamac Town Park this summer

Butch Rosenfeld explaining what macro-invertebrates tell us about water quality

These bugs spell good news for the upriver section of the creek

The work that the Sparkill Watershed Alliance has undertaken on behalf of the creek that threads through their communities is an inspiration to many, and a gift to the thousands of residents of the Sparkill watershed.

The Hudson River and its tributary streams, rivers and creeks need 100 more citizen groups like SWA to take ownership of their well-being. Riverkeeper is here to provide guidance and support but we need true public engagement and stewardship if we are going to achieve and maintain clean, healthy waterways in our communities.

Happy 1st Birthday Sparkill Watershed Alliance, may you enjoy many, many more!

Laurie's inspiration - clean waterways for children
Laurie and John with campers from Strawtown Studio's Summer Waterways Program

Photos courtesy of Laurie Peek and Tracy Brown

Monday, November 21, 2011

CBS News Interview with Captain John

CBS News came aboard recently to discuss Hudson River turbidity following Hurricane Irene.

Patrol Report: Troy Fuel Dock and Hoses

Last week, we were southbound from Waterford during our November patrol.   After transiting the Federal lock, we photographed the Troy Dock fuel hoses and overturned floating dock sections, which were flipped during Irene. Note that, in addition to the two large blue fuel lines coming over the wall between fuel storage tanks and pumps, the two smaller diameter hoses from pumps to fuel nozzles are also in the water.  We notified DEC enforcement, who then contacted the DEC Region 4 Spill Response team  and they currently looking into the situation to ensure that the fuel hoses are removed from the river.  

Then, a few minutes later, we came upon a section of floating dock caught under the bow of the Capt JP II moored to the Troy bulkhead just north of the Congress Street Bridge. No one was aboard so we called the Army Corps maintenance facility located just above the Federal Lock and reported the situation. They thanked me for the report.  The City was also notified about the section of dock caught under the Capt JP II.

As of today, we received a call from a member of the public who has been monitoring the situation for us. The float under the bow of the Capt JP II has been removed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Esopus Creek Continues To Run Red

The level of turbidity in the Lower Esopus Creek continues to run extremely high at the mouth of the creek as it empties muddy red water into the much clearer Hudson River. The below photos were taken on November 11 during our November patrol.

It has a similar appearance to last winter when NYS Department of Environmental Conservation brought an enforcement action against the NYC Department of Environmental Protection for their on-going turbid releases from the Ashokan Reservoir without any authorization. Now these releases are being made with the knowledge and acquiescence of DEC. 

Creek life and the Lower Esopus communities suffer when subjected to constant muddy conditions. Riverkeeper is working with local stakeholders to try to protect the creek from these on-going discharges from the city's reservoirs that harm water quality downstream.

DEC Region 4 Enforcement Patrol

Left to right: Captain Mike St Jeanos, Officer Scott Daly, Officer Martin Skotarczak (their colleague, Officer Anthony Glorioso was aboard in October). 

Last Friday we had Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 4 law enforcement officials aboard for a patrol from Saugerties to Waterford.  We’ve worked with DEC Region 4 law enforcement before but this full day regional patrol together is a first.

It was great to spend the day sharing info about cases and areas of concern -  I learned a lot.
We observed several issues which they indicate they will follow up on next week.

Already in the works are possible joint efforts in the upper Estuary during the 2012 season.

I really appreciate the opportunity this relationship offers. Together we can to do more to protect the River.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Post-Irene with the DEC Fisheries Team

Last week, we had a CBS film crew aboard to discuss post-Hurricane Irene river conditions.  By sheer luck, the DEC fisheries team happened to be out doing beach seins for young-of-year fish as part of a long-term study on Hudson River fish species.  Based on their numbers from this season, they reported that they had not seen a reduction in young fish following the storm.  This is great news because we were worried.  

While the hurricane probably had an impact on fish behavior, we won't know exactly how they fared until next year.  The CBS clip will be available soon.

The DEC fisheries team discusses Irene's impacts on local fish species with CBS News
A pumpkinseed sunfish collected during a beach sein at Croton Point Park

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween on the Hudson

Sea smoke as we headed southbound for NY Harbor before sunrise.
Tappan Zee Bridge at dawn.

Snow on the Fletcher

Saturday, October 29. The Fletcher in her berth at Westerly Marina in Ossining. The snow started midday. Beautiful.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Clearwater in Haverstraw Bay

On October 18th we were southbound from Kingston to Ossining, midway through our October water quality sampling patrol, when we came upon the Hudson River Sloop  Clearwater in Haverstraw Bay. She is always beautiful, but today she was more lovely than usual.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Collaborating on Hudson River Pollution Enforcement

Much of our work on the Riverkeeper boat involves enforcement on behalf of the Hudson River and its tributaries.  While we do not have legal jurisdiction over polluters (i.e. legal investigations & arrests) we are lucky enough to work with agencies that do.  Because we're constantly out on the water, in and out of the back canals of Brooklyn, and covering all 164 miles of the Hudson River, we are often some of the first eyes to witness water pollution.

We recently brought several members of the Department of Justice's US Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York as well as members of the EPA's Region 2 Criminal Enforcement Unit for a tour of Newtown Creek and the East River.  Our focus was discussing cases throughout the Hudson Valley that we can collaborate on in the future.  You can bet that we're looking forward to working together in the future!

Riverkeeper attorney and chief investigator, Josh Verleun (far right), discussing Riverkeeper's involvement in enforcement on Newtown Creek

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Ecology Research with the College of Mount Saint Vincent

The Riverkeeper boat serves many purposes on the Hudson River, sometimes as a watchdog and patrol vessel, sometimes as a platform for scientific research and water quality monitoring, and sometimes as an ambassador for the river.  This past weekend we were able to fill all of these roles at once while on patrol with ecology students from the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

The focus of the outing was using science to influence policy and letting data "speak for itself," which is a major theme of our water quality research.  Students measured turbidity and salinity while aboard.  The students were also able to learn how about how the river is a giant living being thing that experiences environmental changes constantly. 

We find that the ability to conduct research on the boat instead of in a lab is always a positive experience, especially on a beautiful fall day on the Hudson.

Thanks to Professor Patricia Grove and her students for a great outing!

Captain Lipscomb giving some history of the Riverkeeper boat.
Professor Patricia Grove explaining the use of a Secchi disk to measure turbidity.
Captain Lipscomb showing students what a "hot" water quality sample looks like once it's processed.  The fluorescence indicates Entero growth.
Rob Friedman explaining salinity stratification in the river.

Monday, October 03, 2011

UPDATE: Beacon Water Quality Notification 9/30

We sampled the water quality at 9 PM sharp on 9/30, just before low tide when the sewage discharge was separate and distinct from river water. We were unable to resample earlier in the day because the tide was unusually high and up to the discharge pipe.

The Enterococcus levels were again higher than our measurement limit using a 1 in 10 dilution, >24,196 Entero per 100 ml. That is greater than 397 times the EPA guideline for acceptable water quality for primary contact - 61 Enterococcus per 100/ml. The water from this discharge pipe is very contaminated with sewage.

As of 9/30, this discharge has been active since Friday the 17th (at least) when it was first reported to Riverkeeper - that's 14 days. There was no signage or police tape at the site to warn the public against contacting the contaminated water.

testing tray
Sample tray from 9 PM, 9/30 sample, 1/10 dilution. All wells fluorescing indicating result >24,196 Entero per 100 ml - more than 397 times the EPA guideline for acceptable water quality (61 Entero per 100/ml).

Outing with Nyack Elected Officials

L to R: Cathy Friesen (Chair of Zoning Board of Appeals), Mayor Richard Kavesh, Riverkeeper Captain John Lipscomb, Jen Laird White (Deputy Mayor), Candice Robins, Doug Foster (Village Trustee), in front Owen (son of Cathy Friesen)
We recently had the opportunity to take several residents and elected officials of Nyack on a river patrol of their community to discuss issues ranging from water quality to trash disposal.  The purpose of the outing centered around building relationships, both between Riverkeeper and Nyack's elected officials, as well as between Nyack and the river.   We look forward to continuing to build these relationships moving forward!