Algonquin Tour Shorts, Raw Footage

HarborLAB was privileged to host an Algonquin Tour of the Newtown Creek. Our lecturer was Prof. Evan Pritchard of Marist College, a scholar of Mi’kmaq heritage and founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture. He is the author of several books about the First Nations of North America, especially our region. We were honored to include Dorothty Morehead, Interim Chair of the Newtown Creek Alliance, Matt Malina, Founder of NYCH2O, and urban ecology blogger Patrick Coll among our participants.

This is the first Native American tour of the Newtown Creek, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund site because of the industrial toxins in its sediments. This video was shot by Prof. Scott Sternbach, acclaimed nature photographer, director of CUNY LaGuardia Community College’s photography and video department and Chair of HarborLAB.

These are just shorts taken from our event, and the audio will be enhanced, especially for the beginning section. Full raw footage will be made available to academics and a we’ll release a polished final cut video for the public. Prof.Pritchard offers blessings for the boats by burning sage and discusses diverse topics, including the lands and peoples of the Newtown Creek, how tulip tree canoes (moo xool) were communally shared, and evidence for extensive maritime trade within the Americas before European contact.

We are very grateful to the NYC DEP for its permission to land at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk steps.

 

Great HarborLAB Launch Work Party!

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Boat launch property before most work hard begun. Photo by Wesley Miller.

HarborLAB volunteers cleaned up our 125′ x 21′ waterfront space and installed a boat launch so that in 2014 we can offer more frequent programming, host and assist student research projects, and bring robust community life and a richer ecosystem to the shore. We’re very grateful to Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead for storing our boats for the summer in the yard behind her Sunnyside office, with our gear and materials in her basement.

Our space, which is at the end of Vernon Boulevard, is generously provided by Schuman Properties (family owned, along with Propper Manufacturing). We have great co-tenants, including the Circus Warehouse. The chief inspiration for the site revamp was our recent purchase of a boat trailer from Jersey Paddler. Other recent funds enabled us to budget for security cameras, locks and chains, sheds, and property improvements.

The property was unusable due to Hurricane Sandy debris and recovery period dumping, as well as loose pallets of bricks and dense and extensive weed growth. The crumbling bulkhead also left us with a steep and unstable gradient. The first reclamation work was done by Wesley Miller, who single-handedly weeded much of the tract, allowing a trailer to roll in while leaving weeds that held down soil on slopes. Wesley also restacked bricks that fell from pallets.

Then came HarborLAB’s work party! Our labor was fueled by amazing Italian food from Manducatis Rustica, which is further up Vernon Boulevard. We were glad to welcome three new volunteers, Dr. Minerva Ahumada (professor of philosophy at LaGuardia Community College — and boy do her students love her!), David Pugh (a Time’s Up! activist referred to us by HarborLAB board member Joel Kupferman, founder of the NY Environmental Law and Justice Project), and artist Becky Chipkin.

Schuman Properties kindly ordered a dumpster, which ten volunteers filled rapidly with all manner of junk. We also moved thousands of bricks by hand, assembly line style, to further open up space near the gate. We also installed a mailbox, began gate repairs, and installed a wooden boat launch. LIC-based artist and sailor Ilan Averbuch creates massive sculptures, so he’s offered to help move some pallets of bricks with his forklift.  HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson oversaw all work, while Mairo Notton particularly focused on our boat launch.

Our boat launch is inspired by Viking-style wooden ramps, which Rob Buchanan of the Village Community Boathouse also called a “dory ladder.” These are still in common use, for example in Newfoundland. In our case, to save time and some of HarborLAB’s budget, Founder Erik Baard donated his futon frame. Whatever works!

Future plans include salt-tolerant native species to hold the shoreline together, spartina marsh grass planting, a work platform for research, a dock, shipping containers for storage once the bricks are removed this winter, and much more! We’re also working to ensure our improvements are inclusive of the sailors already present, with stronger tie-ups, stairs and paths down (also sparing planted areas), and community building activities.

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Overgrown space with dumping, including heavy buckets with unknown contents. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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Some of the many bricks on the site that had to be moved and stacked. In total, there are perhaps 50,000 bricks. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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Now the work can begin with gusto — the dumpster arrives! Photo by Erik Baard.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker lassos the gate post to pull it upright, while Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson directs from below and sets the line.

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Sally Attia, Mairo Notton, and David Pugh install the boat ramp, which Mairo assembled out of Founder Erik Baard’s futon frame. David’s shirt also provides a great chance to salute pioneering urban environment group Time’s Up! Photo by Erik Baard.

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Mairo Notton tests the repelling aspect of his boat ramp masterpiece. Photo by Erik Baard.

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David Pugh and Becky Chipkin inaugurate the boat ramp, both launching and landing, while Sally Attia helps. . Photo by Erik Baard.

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David Pugh, Sally Attia, and Manny Steier organize the huge task of moving bricks out our working area. Patricia Erickson was the spur and inspiration that made us believe we could do it in a day. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Mairo Notton upped the ante in brick carrying, with 15 at a time. Sometimes 18, simply to show off. He also tested Erik Baard’s ability to do so — Erik passed, but this remained Mairo’s signature achievement. Photo by Erik Baard.

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More bricks, bricks, bricks. We did it in a continual human chain, with specialized stackers at either end. Here camera shy Dr. Minerva Ahumada, professor of philosophy at LaGuardia Community College, scoots out of frame while HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee enters. One wonders if the myth of Sisyphus prepared Minerva for this task. Photo by Erik Baard.

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We still had time for love. David Pugh, Becky Chipkin, a dumpster, a sign warning of the END, and the new World Trade Center rising over the Newtown Creek mouth. Photo by Erik Baard.

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In an unusual move, a seaplane used the Newtown Creek as a runway — toward Manhattan. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Making us more official, Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson and Mairo Notton install a mailbox by the gate. Photo by Erik Baard.

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As we feasted on Manducatis Rustica’s food, our North Brooklyn Boat Club neighbors across the Newtown Creek set off on an overnight Manhattan circumnavigation. We called out our well wishes for the canoeists, kayakers, and rowers. Photo by Erik Baard.

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In daylight we saw the full dumpster. Photo by Erik Baard.

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And off goes the site junk! Photo by Erik Baard.

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Canoes and trailer on site and secured. Kayaks to soon follow. Photo by Erik Baard.

Join the OMEGA Exploratory Paddle!

Image courtesy of NASA.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Come paddle into the future! (We’ll stop for ice cream along the way).

HarborLAB will be receiving seed funds this month (announcement coming) to work with students to build a small, prototype photobioreactor on the Newtown Creek Superfund site modeled on the NASA’s project called OMEGA — Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae. HarborLAB’s vision is to work with students to grow clean, green fuel in membranes floating on a waterway polluted by the largest U.S. urban oil spill. Algae chosen for biofuel potential would harness sunlight on the open surface expanse and derive nutrients from treated water from the Newtown Creek sewage plant. How poetic is that?
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HarborLAB hopes to undertake OMEGA Newtown Creek as a project that will enrich the educational experiences of students at LaGuardia Community College and other area schools. As OMEGA Newtown Creek grows, we’ll welcome other nonprofit partnerships. One of our sponsors, Arup, is leading Hunters Point South park and infrastructure development at the Newtown Creek mouth and in Germany built an algae-powered building.
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HarborLAB sponsor Arup building in Germany with a photobioreactor skin.

HarborLAB sponsor Arup building in Germany with a photobioreactor skin.

On August 25th, we’ll be installation site scouting and generally exploring the creek, which tells uniquely instructive ecological tales. We’ll soon name our canoes for local and renowned environmental heroes — we hope Bernie Ente, Jenni Jenkins, and Rachel Carson would get a kick out of the NASA OMEGA Project.
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To participate in this paddle, please be at least 18 years old.  Email tours@harborlab.org with the subject line “OMEGA Paddle.” If possible, please email with your signed waiver form (https://harborlab.org/waivers/) attached. You can also visit our Facebook event page. BONUS: We’ll stop by Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on the Greenpoint side before heading back.
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OMEGA might be especially suitable for the sheltered waters of Newtown Creek, away from destructive wave action. We’re in touch with NASA’s OMEGA project lead scientist Jonathon Trent, Ph.D. to learn as much as we can. We’re a long way from implementation (classroom and lab work, further funds, permits, curricular integration, etc.), but it starts Sunday, August 25 with a canoe paddle to assess possible installation sites.
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HarborLAB’s Water Sampling Recommences

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Vial on beam at Newtown Creek launch sampling site. Photo by Emanuel Steier.

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Vial on beam at Newtown Creek launch sampling site. Photo by Emanuel Steier.

Before HarborLAB had a single boat, we initiated weekly “citizen scientist” water sampling in Queens and Randalls Island through the NYC Water Trail Association. The River Project was the first testing center for this program, which is funded in part by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.  We soon invited the environmental science program at CUNY LaGuardia Community College to participate in the program (HarborLAB’s board includes faculty from the college). This year The River Project is our testing site again, so we must deliver samples in cooler packs to Pier 40 in lower Manhattan (Hudson River at West Houston Street). That’s a great opportunity for our newer volunteers to meet a model estuary education nonprofit, but also a logistical stretch.

Now that HarborLAB has found its sea legs this summer — launched our fleet and held programs across the harbor — we’re recommencing our citizen scientist participation. On August 1, Emmanuel “Manny” Steier biked to our Newtown Creek launch and sampled water about six inches deep. If you’d like to participate, please click onto our Facebook event page here.

This program tests for intestinal bacteria, but sewage is only one risk factor in western Queens. HarborLAB opposes sit-on-top paddling for children in western Queens sites like the Newtown Creek, Anable Basin, and Hallets Cove. This is because bacteria levels are frequently high in these locations — especially Hallets Cove — and also because we struggle with the consequences of industrial pollution from generations past. The Newtown Creek is an Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund Site because of sediment contamination and because Standard Oil caused our nation’s largest urban petroleum spill. Anable Basin, a former Standard Oil barge slip, has been described by some as a potential “mini-Newtown Creek” because the adjacent land was so fouled by underground refineries that the Queens West development required massive soil remediation. Indeed, as the Queens Chronicle notes, “steel sheeting had been installed to keep outside pollution from seeping into the site.” That is, the residential site needed to be protected from pollution from Anable Basin.

So while we are huge fans of testing for bacteria, western Queens requires more comprehensive testing as soon as funding allows. Moreover, we must all show restraint despite kids’ welcome eagerness to paddle — lobby hard for cleanups now, and then provide programs when conditions are better. Recreational programs should be truly controlled by the community and subject to the informed judgment of voting parents. No sign-on-the-fly liability waiver can reasonably empower parents to place children in wet-riding sit-on-top kayaks into such highly polluted waters.

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Sample drop box at The River Project. Photo by Emanuel Steier.

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2012 testing at LaGuardia Community College. Photo by Erik Baard.

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2012 testing at LaGuardia Community College. Photo by Erik Baard.

City of Water Day Memories

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Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker takes two kids out in the embayment while the rest of their family shared another boat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

HarborLAB was honored to serve at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance‘s request as the public kayaking program at the Governors Island center of City of Water Day, the largest annual harbor festival in our region. We enjoyably and safely shared a very busy little dock with New York Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. (Community Education and Recreation on the Water) rowers. We set 146 members of the public afloat within the protected Pier 101 embayment between 11am and 4pm, despite the happy interruptions of arriving groups of kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and canoeists, and a wildly popular and zany cardboard kayak race.

We couldn’t have achieved these good things for the community without the support of our sponsors and allies. At this event we were proud to fly sustainably produced banners that included both our logo  and those of TF Cornerstone, Con Ed, and the United Nations Federal Credit Union.

HarborLAB was represented by two dozen volunteers, students, and supporters. CUNY students, especially LaGuardia Community College, were especially helpful in our estuary and watershed education tent. They also documented the day’s attractions. Our dock was staffed throughout by Daisy Hope Benjamin, an emergency room nurse with child and adult life saving certifications, as an added level of safety. She was also just great company on the dock! The day’s on-water safety and event production, under which we served, was directed for MWA by Ray Fusco, whose professionalism and kindness made this hard work for public benefit a pleasure.

Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance officials described our program variously as “brilliant,” “great,” and “amazing.” Our success follows similar raves at the Clearwater Festival. Though this is our first season, our core volunteers have years of service on the harbor under their belts, or life vests. Founder Erik Baard has a special tie to City of Water Day — he started the Five Borough Harbor Ramble (the first event through which paddlers and rowers touched all boroughs), which MWA aided greatly (special thanks to Carter Craft!). When the MWA asked to adopt the Ramble as its fully-owned signature annual event, Erik joyfully agreed. Since then the MWA has rebranded the event using the title of its excellent documentary, and profoundly grown City of Water Day as no other organization could.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando stepped down from the desk to communicate a message to the dock crew while new volunteer (met that day) and teacher Kamala Redd hams it up with her niece. 🙂

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The day started in Sunnyside, Queens, where our boats are temporarily stored at the private office of Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead. Our great innovation of the morning was to heat seal sustainably printed decals to our boats using a blowdryer. Thanks to a Harbor Estuary Program grant for City of Water Day, we rented a box truck to carry boats — we URGENTLY need a trailer (sponsor our purchase of this 16-boat trailer!) and often shuttle boats bit by bit in a HarborLAB Facilities Manager Pat Erickson’s van, but our volunteers had enough work ahead of them. A huge help came from NY Waterway, which sent a special East River Ferry to Hunters Point for HarborLAB to get boats, gear, and volunteers to Governors Island ahead of the crowds.

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Operation Manager EJ Lee on decal duty.

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ER Nurse Daisy Benjamin brings fantastic precision to her work.

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Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson with six of our ten Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandem sit-on-top kayaks.

HarborLAB’s morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

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On the island, gear was transported to Pier 101 by Ray Fusco’s van. Volunteer Emanuel “Manny” Steier had a creative solution for moving the boats!

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Volunteer Zamira Kamal takes a quick, well-deserved break. Photo by Ana Espinal.

HarborLAB volunteers operated two tents, one of which we brought to the island aboard the ferry. The first held waivers and great safety and stewardship information from  the American Canoe Association (HarborLAB is a Paddle America Club). The second, red canopy was our estuary and watershed education desk. At that table we highlighted CUNY LaGuardia Community College research and provided literature from the Harbor Estuary Program, NY State DEC, NYC DEP, ACA, and other great environmental groups and agencies.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando and Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson staff the HarborLAB waiver and American Canoe Association information table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Operations Manager EJ Lee at the education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Teacher David Perrin flanked by EJ Lee and Vernon ShengWuey Ong at the education table.

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HarborLAB’s education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Down on the ramp, dock, and water our volunteers had a blast despite the pressures of managing crowds and coordinating safe sharing of the embayment. It helped that NY Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. are both friendly, community-spirited, and highly competent groups. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them was a privilege.

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A beautiful East River C.R.E.W. boat captained by Mary Nell Hawk.

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Volunteers Omar Barrios, Daisy Benjamin, and Danushi Fernando sharing a laugh on the dock.

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Steve Sanford on safety patrol in the MetroBoat, HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard’s mass transit and estuary “brain child” with Folbot (http://folbot.wordpress.com/tag/metroboat/).

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HarborLAB Board Member Scott Sternbach, CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director, on safety patrol in his own boat. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Erik Baard managed kayak group arrivals during program hours to keep the dock from getting dangerously crowded. Here he holds HarborLAB boats out on the water while LIC Community Boathouse (also founded by Erik Baard), Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and Sebago Canoe Club boats arrived in one flotilla.

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“Boat Hill” fills in as paddling groups arrive.

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CUNY students and HarborLAB volunteers George Blandino-Ripley and Ana Espinal.

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The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

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Part of the afternoon HarborLAB crew. Yes, a bunch of us pulled double shifts!

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Even a hose shower was a blessing.

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Students and volunteers enjoyed exploring the island, which is rich in art. Photo by Daniel Cassady.

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At least half of us camped over on the island.

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Sunrise over Brooklyn. Time to go home.

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Daniel Cassady and the rest of the crew carried boats down for an early launch.

City of Water Day Grant!

Wonderful news!

We have received a grant for $500.00 for our participation at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s harbor and water environment celebration:  City of Water Day.

Funds were generously provided by the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program , the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, and the  The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

HarborLAB will provide the free public kayaking program on Governors Island for City of Water Day, and will be a resource for learning through our education tent thanks in great part to CUNY LaGuardia Community College. This generous grant makes those contributions much less of a strain on our new and growing organization. Administration of this grant is made possible by our 501(c)(3) fiscal conduit, Earth Day New York. We are very grateful to NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program, the New England Water Pollution Control Commission, and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance!