BY JON CRONIN
The Newtown Creek Alliance, a local nonprofit, has restored a historical shoreline site that was formally the Maspeth Toll Bridge in the 1800s.
According to their website, the Newtown Creek Alliance works to restore the creek and shoreline neighborhoods by monitoring pollution and reporting it. They also aim to restore the ecological diversity to the creek and, “support investments in green infrastructure, bioremediation, and habitat restoration.”
Although the Newtown Creek Alliance has been working to clean up the creek, it is still severely polluted, the Environmental Protection Agency website states, “as a result of (Newtown Creeks) industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways. Site investigations and the site’s long-term cleanup are ongoing.”
The EPA categorizes the creek as a “superfund site” earmarked for remediation program because of its incredibly hazardous contaminants.
Willis Elkins, the program manager for the Newtown Creek Alliance, said the Maspeth project site located at the corner of 47th Street and 58th Road, which they call Plank Road, started about two years ago when they were looking to create more access to the waterway and got an $8,000 grant from the New York/ New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program.
The bridge was built in 1836 and torn down in 1875. Throughout the 19th century the creek was used to transport goods and had industrial sites all along its waterway. By this century the creek has become extremely polluted and the Plank Road site overgrown.
The overgrown street end was an eyesore in an industrial district. “It was just not an inviting spot,” said Elkins.
The funding that assisted the most was $20,000 from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which not only helped get to project to where it is, but continues to fund the remediation of the site.
Plank Road now offers a quiet green space for those who work nearby, with historical information provided by the alliance and gravel paving the way down to the water’s edge.
One of the largest issues they had, “simple removal of trash and dumped debris from the site,” which turned out to be, “Well over 1,000 lbs removed in the past 18 months,” Elkins stated.
Removing the trash and creating an aesthetically pleasing street end was a milestone they celebrated on October 17 with friends, volunteers and contributors to the project with a barbecue at the site.
The former bridge site, which in the 1800s connected Maspeth and Newtown across Furman’s Island would bring products through a ferry service to the markets in Williamsburg,
The alliance first removed all the invasive plants, planted more native flora and cleaned up a concrete platform near the water’s edge.
With Plank Road being in an industrial area, Elkins admits, “It’s been challenging to get people involved in Maspeth.”
He noted that U.S. Concrete and NYC Sanitation, the next door neighbors to the site, have donated a lot of materials and man hours as well.
Anthony Bruno, operations manager for NYC Materials of U.S. Concrete said they donated approximately 20 man hours, natural rock of various sizes a pathway to the shore that aid in water absorption, and the use of two of their loaders.
He said they’ve gotten “verbal support” from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s (D-Glendale) office and Community Board 5 Transportation Chair Walter Sanchez.
Sanchez said, “What they do on the creek is terrific.” He added that he wishes the DEC could be at the forefront of projects like this. He also recalled that he went on a canoe trip down the Newtown Creek with Elkins, where he saw just how much Elkins and his crew are into the remediation of the creek and aware of the ecology and sea life trying to come back to the creek.
Elkins said he “would like to see it adopted as a street end park.”
On the Brooklyn side, Elkins noted that they have a little more community popularity with similar projects still in the planning stages like the end of Apollo Street and end of North Henry Street.
The North Henry Street project is incredibly ambitious. It looks to recreate, with aid from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund, 20,000 square feet of shoreline space “into publicly accessible and ecologically beneficial open space and shoreline,” according to their website. Once abandoned trailers are removed from the site, they plan to reach out to the community’s residents and businesses to find out what they would like to see at the shoreline.
He also mentioned a project in the park at the end of Manhattan Avenue near the entrance to the East River that was taken over by the New York City Parks department. It opened in 2008 and now functions as access to the waterway.
Reach Reporter Jon Cronin at (718) 357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin