Gowanus: The Background

Published March 2, 2010 in The Brooklyn Ink

The Environmental Protection Agency now has the legal authority to go after The City of New York and eight other polluters who for decades contributed to contamination of the Gowanus Canal. The EPA was granted the power after labeling the 1.8-mile canal that divides Red Hook and South Brooklyn from Park Slope a federal Superfund site, a list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites.

“The City of New York has owned or operated various facilities including an asphalt plant, coal plan, and incinerator,” said EPA spokesperson Elizabeth Totman. “We think that the coal runoff combined with metal and coal tar has impacted the ground water and migrated into the canal.”

The EPA also identified eight additional responsible polluting parties, but said the investigation is ongoing. Among the parties are Con-Edison, Chemtura Corporation, The U.S. Navy, National Grid, Beazer East Corporation, Rapid American Corporation, Brink’s Incorporated and Cibro Petroleum Products. The next step is negotiating an agreement with each party to investigate the extent of the contamination.

The canal was brought to the attention of the EPA after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter in December 2008 asking the federal agency to consider adding the Gowanus Canal to their Superfund list. The letter initiated preliminary sampling of the canal to test for contaminates.

“When we got that letter we took the proper steps to consider it and to figure out if the canal was contaminated enough,” Totman said. “We were out in the field in late January 2009 to do sampling for hazard ranking score to determine whether or not the potential pathways of exposure of a site are warranted. Gowanus canal scored above the threshold, which makes it warranted to do the Superfund site list.”

When asked about the EPA’s decision to add Gowanus to the Superfund list, the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which initiated the federal investigation, was mute on the issue. “For background we’re just not commenting on it right now,” said DEC spokesperson Lori Severino. “We are pleased that they are working on it and we’re not saying anything else.”

During their investigation the EPA found evidence of heavy metals, pesticides, and contaminates that occur in oil, coal and tar deposits present in the canal. In April of last year, the EPA proposed adding the canal as one of its’ 1,279 currently listed sites. After reviewing more than 1,300 comments from the community, businesses and officials, the agency decided the Superfund list was the best approach to cleaning up the contaminated canal.

The federal agency is already negotiating with National Grid, one of the responsible parties on an agreement. “They are responsible for three manufactured gas plants along the canal,” Totman said. Plants artificially produce gases like hydrogen, methane and ethylene by burning coal, wood or oil. “Those plants created contamination that is affecting the water in the canal. They have been extremely cooperative.”

Totman said the EPA hopes to have an agreement with National Grid by the end of the month. If agreed upon, it would force the company to install wells that run parallel to the canal to determine the source of the contaminated groundwater and if the contaminates are migrating from the property to the canal. “If we do find contaminated groundwater, the next determination would be how do we cut that off,” Totman said.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman in the mayor’s office, said the city was disappointed with the EPA’s decision. LaVorgna pointed to the history of Superfund which he said involves lengthy court battles that slow down the process of cleaning up a site.

“We had an approach that would get us to Superfund level cleanup faster by avoiding any potential major litigation,” LaVorgna said. “The stigma caused by a Superfund label can cause disinvestment and deter development. In either plan, the city is considered a potential party and responsible for paying some of the cost.”

The Borough Bridge Challenge

There are 24 bridges that separate the boroughs and I intend to run across all of them.

Manhattan & Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Bridge
The Manhattan Bridge
The Williamsburg Bridge

Queens & Manhattan

Queensboro Bridge
Roosevelt Island Bridge
Ward’s Island Bridge

Brooklyn & Queens

McGuinness Boulevard Bridge
Greenpoint Avenue Bridge
Kosciuszko Bridge

Bronx & Manhattan

Triborough Bridge
Willis Avenue Bridge
Third Avenue Bridge
Madison Avenue Bridge
138th Street Bridge
145th Street Bridge
Macombs Dam Bridge
High Bridge
High Bridge Aquaduct
Washington Bridge
University Heights Bridge
Broadway Bridge
Henry Hudson Bridge

New Jersey & Manhattan

George Washington Bridge

Staten Island & Brooklyn

Verrazano Bridge (no pedestrians)

Fed-Ex, Delivering More Than Packages

Anyone who rides public transportation knows the feeling – watching the glowing red tail lights of the bus or train as it rides away without you, missing it by a matter of seconds. The feeling of disappointment hurts almost as much as the cold wind that slaps you across the face.

This happened to me Thursday night, coming back from Harlem. Fortunately for me, a Fed-Ex driver named Derrick saw my misfortune and honking his horn, motioned me to the door. He unlocked it and asked if I was trying to make the bus.

“Yeah,” I said.
“Hop in. I know what it’s like to miss the bus,” he said.

Now I’m not normally one to be accepting rides from strangers, especially ones offering me candy or willing to drive me to soccer practice, but on this cold evening I made an exception. Dressed in a blue hoodie and with white earbuds dangling from his ears, he introduced himself as Derrick.

“Matt.”
“Hold on,” Derrick said punching the accelerator.

The engine roared and the truck raced up the hill to the next stop. Derrick pulled the truck to a halt and I hopped out, slamming the door behind me. I waved to Derrick, thanking him as he peeled off around the corner.

At this moment the M104 pulled up and I hopped on board. That night Fed-Ex was delivering more than just packages – they were delivering Huisman too.

Zen and the Insanity of Running

Yesterday I ran further than I can recall in recent memory. The last time I ran more than 20 miles was six years ago to the day when I finished the Motorola Marathon in Austin, Texas.

So I laced up my shoes and headed toward Central Park. I initially intended to run to a nearby borough – The Bronx or Queens, perhaps, but as I traversed the trees of the North Woods, I decided to detour south, cutting through to Columbus Circle.

” The Brooklyn Bridge,” I thought. “I’ll run across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

The cereal and granola bars in my stomach were getting tossed around with each step and I needed something to level the balance of food. A hot dog fit the bill perfectly. I dug two dollars out of my kangaroo pouch in my running tights in exchange for some red and yellow tube steak.

With zip in my step I started down Broadway again following the green path between traffic and the sidewalk. It was here that I noticed a bicyclist who was keeping pace with me quite well. We matched each other through Times Square but I lost him shortly after Herald Square. Oh well, I thought brushing him off.

I continued past the Flat Iron building, through Chinatown and finally reached a bridge. But to my dismay it was The Manhattan Bridge.

“Maybe I’ll just cross this one instead,” I thought. “No…I’m not quitting now.”

Finally I approached the Brooklyn Bridge as I weaved between photographers and tourists the massive cables ran overhead. The wooden planks that carry you across the East River provide a nice change from the hard concrete and asphalt of the city.

I am not familiar with most of Brooklyn so I knew that I would have to zen it. It’s a combination of a good sense of direction and wandering about aimlessly. I use this quite often.

I remember running down Flushing Avenue until I arrived at Metropolitan Avenue when I realized I was lost. A sign pointing east toward Long Island was a pretty good indication. I had intended to zen toward the northwest part of the island, when in fact I was running northeast. The good news about getting lost is that your ability to zen only improves. Continue reading “Zen and the Insanity of Running”

The Soft Pack Storms New York City

The San Diego native rockers are bringing their unique mix of punk and classic rock sounds to New York City starting this Friday. The band will by playing a free show at The Cake Shop for their cd released Tuesday. The show is open to all ages and best of all it’s free. The party kicks off Friday evening at midnight, but expect to wait in line for a couple of hours before.

Also on Friday at noon, tickets go on sale for their two shows. The first is on Thursday, April 1 at The Mercury Lounge. This is a 21+ show. The second show is Saturday, April 3 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Both shows are $12 and should sell out quickly.

For those of you not familiar with The Soft Pack, here are two tracks that are sure to please. The first is their single off their self-titled album. The second is a eerie cover of Phoenix’s Fences. The haunting vocals and muffled sound make it sound reminiscent of early recordings by The Rolling Stones.

Answer to Yourself

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Fences (Phoenix Cover)

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Still want more? Then stream their new album for free online.

Dr. Frankenstein’s Metal Monster

I was walking to dinner this evening when I noticed something sitting at the foot of a lamppost. It was the unmistakable suitcase that holds typewriters. Given my affinity for typewriters, I immediately investigated the scene of the crime.

DCPI Report:
On Saturday, January 23, 2010 at approximately 1756 hours police responded to the corner of West 112th Street and Broadway Avenue within the confines of the 26 Precinct in regards to an unconscious typewriter. Upon arrival police discovered an electric typewriter with lacerations to the body of the keyboard. The victim, a T/B/40’s, was unconscious inside of a trashcan at the location. EMS responded and pronounced the typewriter DOA at 1808 hours. The Medical Examiner will determine the cause of death, the investigation is ongoing at this time.


Family notification is pending for the deceased.
Continue reading “Dr. Frankenstein’s Metal Monster”

Shows to Catch in the Spring of 2010

One of my new year’s resolutions was to see more live shows. What a better place to do that then New York City. I scoured some of the popular venues and while I’m sure I didn’t find all the bands, here are a few that shouldn’t be missed.

Hot Chip – $35

Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (Goes on sale Friday, 1/22)
Friday, April 23 at Terminal 5 (Tix on sale)

These British dance/hip-hop/electronic group has an ever-evolving sound that is contagious. I’m curious to see how they’ll transform with their next album as they have over the past four albums. Formed in 2000, these guys have been nominated for a Grammy Award.
Hold On

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Justice – $45

Friday, Feb. 12 at Terminal 5 (Sold Out)

The French DJ duo made it big after their debut release (Cross) in 2007. They have since hit the festival circuit playing Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco and Coachella in Indio, Calif. Their much anticipated sophomore album is supposed to drop sometime in 2010.
B.E.A.T. (D.A.N.C.E. Remix)

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Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears – $13

Thursday, Feb. 25 at The Bowery Ballroom (Tix on sale)

The Austin blues band formed in 2007 finally got their big break during the 2009 SXSW music festival and have been selling out shows around the country since. Definitely a band to watch in the next few years.
Someone Loves Me

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Cage the Elephant – $15

Tuesday, March 2 at The Bowery Ballroom (Tix on sale)

The Bowling Green, Kentucky natives are one the few good rock bands to arrive on the music scene in recent years. Like many other bands, they got their big break after playing SXSW in Austin and went on to play last year’s Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn. They also appeared on my Top 30 Tunes of 2009.
Aint No Rest for the Wicked

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Continue reading “Shows to Catch in the Spring of 2010”

The Hazards of Skateboarding

So I took my skateboard out for a spin after taking a three week hiatus and no more than 5 minutes after I took off, I hit a patch of gravel that twisted my board cock-eyed. The laws of motion sent me flying off my board and hitting the asphalt road hard. My primary concern, however, was not my own safety, but the safety of my board. The last thing I want is for my board to get snapped by some absent-minded motorist.

I peeled myself off the pavement and scrambled to catch my board which was rolling backwards into oncoming traffic. After saving my board I investigated my own injuries. I shredded the palm of my right glove and have a nasty strawberry underneath it on my hand. Then I pulled up the left sleeve of my hoodie to reveal that some of the skin just below my elbow had been removed.

With adrenaline pumping through my body, I decided to persevere to Central Park and bomb the hill at 108th Street. I climbed to the top of the hill and tucked in as I carved the massive hill, my hair blowing in the wind.

Two Roomies and a Typewriter

A couple of nights ago, my roommate Rick and I were drinking beer when we decided to whip out my typewriter, a 1964 Smith Corona Classic 12. Light Blue. Full manual. Rick and I are both writers – him the creative nonfiction type and me the reporter – so we decided to collaborate on an impromptu piece of creative journalism.

I started typing to show him how to use the metal brute. After a couple of quick lines, I plopped the typewriter in his lap.

it;s so he avy this typewriter
doyou want to put it on the floor.
nnah. it feels good.

Clacking keys on a manual typewriter is unlike any other form of writing. You realize the struggles that plagued writers of the past. Typing isn’t smooth and fluid like on a keyboard, it’s a pecking frenzy that leaves your hands twisted as they try and keep up with your mind.

Occasionally you’ll miss a space or hit half a letter in the quest to complete a sentence. But let the fingers warm up and watch the words pop as steel slaps ink on a page.

There is no delete key, only a backspace which can be used to turn r’s to n’s and p’s to g’s. When you screw up bad enough, you have to rip out the page and start anew. No wonder writers of the past were so damn good. One draft is never enough. The rewriting process is decided by the nature of the machine. Continue reading “Two Roomies and a Typewriter”

Justice – Served Cold with a Pickle and a Side of Chips

Two month ago, myself and three friends from the Columbia University chapter of the hash house harriers were issued a court summons before a run through the Cloisters. Officers Nunez and Silvano of the 34th precinct informed us that the brown-bag shields we were using to cover our beers were no match for their detection skills.

Two month ago, myself and three friends from the Columbia University chapter of the hash house harriers were issued a court summons before a run through the Cloisters. Officers Nunez and Silvano of the 34th precinct informed us that the brown-bag shields we were using to cover our beers were no match for their detection skills. They issued me, my roommate Rick, and friends Pat and Sean summons for having an open container of alcohol. We did the crime, now it was time to pay up for our actions. Our day in court had arrived.

There was a steady rain as the four of us arrived at Criminal Court a little after 9 a.m. We shuffled to the back of the line, the first of six lines that day, which had already formed halfway down the block. Our minds began to wonder what lied on the inside of the stone temple of justice.

“I imagine it’s like a deli,” Pat said. “You get a number and then justice is served like a ½ pound of Boar’s Head, sliced thin for sandwiches.”

After getting inside the front door and through security, we were directed to wait in yet another line on the second floor. At the end of this line was a clerk who would take our summons and assign us to one of three courtrooms. Slowly we worked our way through the bureaucratic maze that is the New York City penal system.

During our wait we stood behind Henry, a career criminal, who wouldn’t say what he was summoned for. He beguiled us with stories of making fake IDs when living in Miami and driving a carload of pot to Houston. Standing about 5’7” and wearing faded jeans and a paint-stained hoodie, Henry assured us that we would pay no more than a $100 ticket.

With a worried look on his face, Rick turned to me. “I don’t like being in trouble,” he said. “It gets to my conscience.” Continue reading “Justice – Served Cold with a Pickle and a Side of Chips”