HarborLAB volunteers had an amazingly productive Sunday, and had lots of fun in the process! Our goals were to winterize our Newtown Creek waterfront site and prepare it for transformation into the GreenLaunch in the spring. It sure felt like spring already!
We assembled a second shed and platform, repaired “The Jenni” tandem Folbot kayak for use by Baruch College environmental science classes (named for our late friend and CUNY alumna, Jenni Jenkins), set up planters and protected fruit trees from root freeze with vinyl and bags of cocoa shells, gathered seeds (especially pokeberry, goldenrod, and milkweed) for habitat and shoreline stabilization, and protected public boats from UV degradation with tarps. We donated many bricks to Build it Green, delivering them by van. Our bricks, which are molded with holes, are being built sideways into walls in South Africa to allow air circulation.
Many thanks to Patricia Erickson, who directed the day’s work as HarborLAB’s facilities manager and chair of the GreenLaunch committee. A special acknowledgment to Shawn and Miyeon Cornell, who were married just this month and shared this special time with us as stellar volunteers. They are CUNY students, as is Diana Arias, another fantastic volunteer who threw herself into the work (we met her through the great Baruch College ECO Club). Rounding out the crew were Irene McLoughlin, Alessandro Byther (daring Alpinist of bricks and plastic heights), Jenna Nugent, Davis Janowski, Erik Baard, and EJ Lee (HarborLAB operations manager and a CUNY alumna).
Great thanks also to Schuman Properties for our launch and to Citizens Committee for NYC for the initial GreenLaunch project grant. Much gratitude also to Folbot, Lamar Outdoors, Dorothy Morehead for our supplies.
Our new shed came with its own gargoyle (Alessandro). We have no idea what Shawn was doing inside.
Mitch Waxman, crouching, and MAS Jane’s Walk participants in front of the HarborLAB gate and boats. Newtown Creek Alliance board member Laura Risi Hofmann towards the left, in bright blue shirt. Photo by Erik Baard.
HarborLAB was honored to be a featured stop on the Greenpoint-to-Long Island City “DUPBO” 2014 Jane’s Walk. Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman guided the tour, a walking conversation, sharing insights about development, preservation, sustainability, resilience, and cultural vitality. In NYC, the prestigious Municipal Art Society organizes the annual, free urban planning walks honoring Jane Jacob‘s spirit of criticism and query.
What made our site so interesting? It’s that we’re creating the greatest length of green, soft shoreline on the Newtown Creek!
Many thanks to Citizens Committee for NYC for our seed grant (more on that to come) to begin transforming our 125′ waterfront, kindly provided to us by Schumann Properties. Rather than rebuilding our crumbling bulkhead, we’ll follow New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines for using salt tolerant native plantings to stabilize shorelines. We’ll also restore wetlands in the intertidal zone with spartina, mussels, oysters, and other indigenous life. Upland we’ll grow edibles in planters, including hardy kiwi and grape for shade. To maximize the service learning value of this project, we’ll invite college students to participate and follow the advice and directives of biologists Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan and Dr. Sarah Durand of LaGuardia Community College.
HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson will oversee safety stairs, platforms, the dock, and other improvements, aided by Mairo Notton and other skilled volunteers. Our space has been too crowded with bricks on pallets since occupation to do much work, but that’s scheduled to change over the next few weeks.
HarborLAB has also begun a campaign to create a bioswale and rain garden at the dead end of Vernon Boulevard. In some sense, this revives a decade-old effort that New Yorkers for Parks ushered into a design in 2006. With our launch site reworked and a green pocket park, Vernon Boulevard will end in a beautiful long stretch of green that improves Newtown Creek water quality by reducing combined sewage overflows.
The Newtown Creek Superfund designation, however, is based on carcinogenic sediments that line its bed and can sometimes rise through the water column when disturbed. Advocacy for dredging is our chief activity on that front. Our vital ally there is the Newtown Creek Alliance. We were happy that this Jane’s Walk included Newtown Creek Alliance Board Member Laura Risi Hofmann, a greenpoint health and green spaces activist, among its saunterers.
Because of the sometimes high sewage bacteria levels (common to all of western Queens’ waterfronts) and industrial pollutants (exceedingly high also in Anable Basin and Steinway Creek), HarborLAB has two blanket policies: 1) We bring boats to cleaner, safer waters in the region for children to enjoy. The Newtown Creek launch is for adults only. 2) We use canoes for venturing East of the Pulaski Bridge, and sit-on-top kayaks for paddling west, where water quality is much better.
HarborLAB boats and the raw 125′ shoreline, facing East to the Pulaski Bridge. Photo by Erik Baard.
The HarborLAB “boat ladder,” a launch system used by cultures around the world. Note the crumbling shoreline that we’ll slope and stabilize with plantings.
Intertidal area that will be planted with spartina or other native species. Photo by Erik Baard.
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.
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.
Overgrown space with dumping, including heavy buckets with unknown contents. Photo by Wesley Miller.
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.
Now the work can begin with gusto — the dumpster arrives! Photo by Erik Baard.
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.
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.
Mairo Notton tests the repelling aspect of his boat ramp masterpiece. Photo by Erik Baard.
David Pugh and Becky Chipkin inaugurate the boat ramp, both launching and landing, while Sally Attia helps. . Photo by Erik Baard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In an unusual move, a seaplane used the Newtown Creek as a runway — toward Manhattan. Photo by Erik Baard.
Making us more official, Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson and Mairo Notton install a mailbox by the gate. Photo by Erik Baard.
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.
In daylight we saw the full dumpster. Photo by Erik Baard.
And off goes the site junk! Photo by Erik Baard.
Canoes and trailer on site and secured. Kayaks to soon follow. Photo by Erik Baard.