New York City Strength

whispers of the past resonate through the indefatigable in the forging of our future

Category: history

Honey Boats

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*

The sludge on this vessel sails from Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to the Wards Island Water Pollution Control Plant. –Working Harbor Committee

(Wards Island, now connected to Randalls Island, was a separate island until the late 1930s. 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.

SNOW DAY/The Irony of it All


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.