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.
“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.