Where East 78th Street Begins
Today’s entry has taken more than a month to write. I could have made it easy on myself and simply posted the image, but somehow I felt there would be more to this story. And so began the research: boats that sail the East River. In particular this boat.
I have witnessed these vessels day after day, week after week, month after month bound for destinations unknown.
What I found, in short, has to do with completing a final step in New York City’s Wastewater Treatment System.*
The cargo? Sludge (honey). The journey? Continuous.
“Every day, wastewater goes down toilets and drains in homes, schools, businesses and factories and then flows into New York City’s sewer system. Runoff from rain and melting snow, street and sidewalk washing, and other outdoor activities flows into catchbasins in the streets and from there into the sewers….Wastewater treatment plants, also called sewage treatment plants or water pollution control plants, remove most pollutants from wastewater before it is released to local waterways. At the plants, physical and biological processes closely duplicate how wetlands, rivers, streams and lakes naturally purify water. Treatment at these plants is quick, taking only about seven hours to remove most of the pollutants from the wastewater. In the natural environment this process could take many weeks and nature alone cannot handle the volume of wastewater that New York City produces.” -NYC Environmental Protection*
There are seven steps in treating wastewater; only 8 of the 14 NYC Wastewater Treatment Plants are capable of completing the all of these seven steps. This is where our Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) vessel M/V Newtown Creek comes in. This ship is involved with transporting the honey from “Digestion” or step 6, to a facility that will perform “Dewatering” or step 7.
“This last step reduces the liquid volume of sludge by about 90% creating a bio-solid cake that is then transported to PA, VA, NY or NJ for disposal in either landfills or to be mixed with other natural materials that are then used to fertilize golf courses, home lawn & gardens and so on.”-NYC Environmental Protection*
The transporting of sludge is not something new. In the article Marine Vessels Serving New York City, not only did I learn about the history of this process, but also how monitoring water pollution has evolved into today’s high standards.
“Municipal sludge vessels have been a part of New York City’s sludge disposal system since the late 1930s. The Federal Work Projects Administration (WPA) funded and built the first three Motorized Vessels(M/V): M/V Wards Island, M/V Tallman Island, and the M/V Coney Island. Before these vessels were available, sludge was routinely discarded into the surrounding waters from the few sludge facilities operating at that time. As a result, the harbor waters became so polluted that incoming traffic would find their hulls cleaned of any marine life. Unfortunately, much of the protective coatings would be damaged as well.”–CLEARWATERS*
(Wards Island, now connected to Randall’s Island, was a separate island until the late 1930’s. Little Hell Gate Channel and the surrounding wetlands which separated these two islands, were filled in with debris from construction projects in Manhattan joining the two into a single island.) –NYC Department of Parks & Recreation*
Mitch Waxman, a historian, activist and author of The Newtown Pentacle covers in great detail the activities at Newtown Creek: Wastewater Treatment Plant. I recommend getting to know his writing as it is always informative and entertaining.
As far as the origin of “Honey Boat” goes it is not clear, but this endearing name has been a reference for decades. In the days when I was a camp counselor, we used to refer to the trucks that emptied the latrines as “Honey Wagons”. So with that I will let you come to your own conclusions.
It seems that the winter of 2014 is not much different from the winter of 2010 when these images were taken. I’ve lost count as to how many storms we’ve had to date, and there are more in the forecast.
Nature takes on beautiful shapes. Far away, subjects are realistic entities. Close up, they are objects of abstraction.
During this storm the snow had drifted into beautiful peaks, nestled into the corners of the old foot-bridge.
The irony of art. Photographs are appreciated at a more meaningful level when they depict a time-frame a generation ago. If you look at any show currently running at a Chelsea Gallery, you will see what I mean. Viewers of the work reminisce about a time they didn’t know. Or a time they did, but grow nostalgic and only recount the good. These images are also appreciated if what is there in the image no longer exists in reality; people or buildings or parks or cities, just to name a few.
The appreciation is usually stated with emotion; the details of that time are eliminated and anything ugly is virtually nonexistent. It seems difficult for contemporary work to resonate with viewers in the same way since the work still needs to find its place in history-it doesn’t hold the full meaning of the time until the time has passed us by. This holds true for 2014 as it did in 1914 as it did in 1814 as it did…you get what I mean. Case in point, Vincent Van Gogh.
The winter of 2010 was a snowy one, three serious storms alone in the month of February.
On most inclement weather days I find myself more often than not photographing the blizzards and hurricanes. Partially because of the excitement of the event, partially because there are very few people out in these conditions. And as much as I enjoy the rhythm of the city, empty streets on these occasions are a wonderful change.
On this particular day, the 26th of February, I strolled along in the storm finding my way to the river. Crossing over the footbridge made of concrete and steel I noticed the paint was chipping, the cement was cracking and there was graffiti on the supports. The metal fencing along the top to “keep us in” was rusted and bent. An old city structure of more than 70 years.
Unknowingly, photographing this bridge at this point in time, I was creating a photographic history as the bridge was fated to be removed 1 1/2 years later. In the early morning hours of July 31, 2011 the footbridge would be demolished; 141 tons of cement and steel would be lifted by one crane. By barge it would be transported to New Jersey, where it would be broken down to rubble and recycled.
The textures of this old structure were quite beautiful, it was more than a bridge. A sculpture erected in a time when things were simpler. A point in time where we sometimes grow nostalgic.
After a few emails back and forth, March 24 (2011) would be the day for me to visit the site.
I would be escorted by one of the field office engineers. They asked me to wear a hard hat and safety vest.
It was Saint Patrick’s Day, 2011.
After a long day of work, I popped into my friend Dermot’s Irish Restaurant before going home. It was time to enjoy a pint of beer and some good conversation. And then it was time to take care of puppy-dog.
As Kodi and I stepped out the front door for our evening walk, I noticed some activity at the end of the street. We headed in that direction. The closer we got, the more interesting it became; there was construction going on. It was 11:00pm, not the usual time for this sort of activity. Nor did it seem right for work to be happening on a holiday…at least so I thought.
In my usual fashion I had two conversations going on in my head when torn on how to handle an unknown situation.
The first was: Do I go up to the men, say hello, find out what’s going on and then ask them who was in charge?
The second was: What are you thinking? Just keep walking and head home. The city already told you NO.
After pacing back and forth for a few moments, sorting this out in my head and making Kodi a bit crazier than usual, there was a moment of no return. A worker was right next me, I had to take the chance.
I quickly said my hello’s, inquired as to what was going on and then asked for the person in charge. Without issue, all went very well. He told me the person I was seeking out was Darrin, the Superintendent of the project. On this particular evening, the men were doing preliminary work for the upcoming demolition of the bridge-overnight was the best time for this to happen.
And this was the moment when all the stars aligned. Fate, Kismet, Karma. I began to feel excited about the possibilities.
Darrin was intrigued by my proposal. He gave me his business card and told me to contact him the next day. Here is the email I sent:
This is Teresa, the photographer that you were very kind to talk with last night.
I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to come down and see the site.
You and your team will be building something that people will enjoy for decades to come.
I’d like to document the progress of the build and quietly celebrate you through photography. I’ll pop by Monday morning (8ish) and we can talk more about the details.
I’ve attached images of the road crew working the FDR around 2AM. Drivers then weren’t too happy either…
Thanks again. Have a great weekend!
This would be the beginning of my relationship with Ferreira Construction. And the beginning of the Bridge Project at East 78th Street.
“As the clocked ticked toward midnight, 2010 was coming to a close. The imagined project was developing into something real. The history, the environment, the economics of NYC and how the River affects each would be the launching point. And so the journey would begin. I could now welcome in 2011. At the stroke of midnight the project became official.”*
* excerpt from beginnings.
But where to start? The answer would begin to unfold at the end of February…
Kodi and I set out for our regular morning walk. On the way back in to our building, I noticed a sign on the inner door of our entry. People posted various signs there from time to time advertising items for sale before they move. Usually I ignored them. On this particular day I stopped and read what was in front of me. It had been up for over a week.
It was a notice from the NYC DOT. There was a construction project beginning in our neighborhood, at the end of our street. This notice outlined general information about the project as well as contact information in case we had questions; a neighborhood liaison was assigned in a community outreach effort. I read the sign and went inside. Kodi needed breakfast, and I had to head out for the day.
The next morning when we went out again, I stopped and reread the sign. At that moment something clicked. This could be the project to make my vision a reality. I copied down the number and called the office leaving a message simply asking how I could be part of it.
Deborah, the liaison got back to me within a few hours. She stated that she would be visiting the site over the next day and would ask whether I could go on location to photograph the project. Needless to say, I was not aware of the “red tape” for a city operation and did not expect to be turned down so quickly, so firmly.
Because of insurance issues, safety issues, the city was not willing to grant me my request. I was grateful that the DOT thought enough of me to respond so quickly. But I was quite disappointed as I felt everything was going to fall into place so nicely, so neatly.
That was not the case. I was down for now, but not out. The next opportunity would present itself in the upcoming weeks.
At 11:55pm, I stood on the footbridge overlooking the East River. It was December 31, 2013. The sky was clear, the air was crisp, the temperature was below freezing. It was dark except for the few passing cars below on the FDR and the street lights in the distance. There wasn’t a soul around .
This footbridge I have referenced many times to everyone I know: the bridge project photographed from demolition to ribbon cutting. But for some reason up until tonight, I have hit a block not knowing how to move forward and complete what I anticipate to be a really great story.
Excuses include: I need to learn Final Cut X to make this a documentary film; there are 1000’s of images to go through and edit to find the right mix; other projects keep taking priority. And so on. The truth be told, all of these are true, but as with anything if you never start then it will never amount to anything.
As I stood on this bridge with my little dog Kodi, I called my mom on Cape Cod to count down to 2014. She had it on TV. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
And with that she had a sip of Champagne for both of us. It was now 2014. How were we going to make this a special year?
The fireworks sounded in the distance from Central Park. There was joy, excitement and POSSIBILITY in the air.
Kodi and I headed down the ramp of the bridge, back to our apartment to toast in The New Year.
It has been a tradition to have a piece of Pickled Herring as part of the “good luck” celebration. (I really don’t know where this began, but hate to tempt fate…) So I shared a piece with Kodi and washed it down with a fabulous red wine.
With a clean slate ahead, I made the decision that this project will be completed this year.
That means, every day an entry to this blog will happen. They will tell the story of the actual events, the historical impact to the community and the people involved in making it happen.
Today is day one.
Happy New Year!
Just about a year ago on March 24 I began photographing this project. On March 24, 2012 I will shoot the final images to wrap up this chapter of what I hope will be a very interesting story. So please stay tuned as the beginning is very near.
If you’d like, you can see a preview of things to come.
Thanks for dropping in, I look forward to sharing with you what I’ve discovered.