Crossing the bridge on my way to the Fairway grocery store every few weeks or so, I had been struck by the fact that the waterway below appeared to be completely ignored as well as quite badly treated overall. The traffic is such that it is always quite difficult to slow down and get a good view, as well as the fact that the bridge is elevated. Of course the elevation helps in some regards as then one has a broader view, but it doesn’t allow for a close-up view as to what exactly is going on down below. That is, clearly this was not a waterway that was being treasured, appreciated and revered for its beauty – quite the contrary. Much like the pathetic, sad, forlorn horses of yesteryear forced to pull the overweight peddler’s cart, this body of water was in desperate need of rescue and respite.
Needless to say, there was no sign or other marker indicating the name of the waterway either.
The few times I did manage to slow down to take a good look was disturbing: industrial piers built to the very edge of the banks; large cranes towering over small, stunted trees struggling to survive intermittently between the pavement and the stacks of recycled materials to be sold and shipped to places unknown. Towering piles of what turned out to be asphalt with cylindrical shaped buildings, smoke stacks that were, thankfully, not emitting fumes but told of days that were worse than what existed now. The water itself never seemed to move but just lay there; tired, exhausted, spent. I have since crossed that bridge numerous times in all kinds of weather, summer and winter, spring and fall and never once have I seen the water below make any kind of motion whatsoever. More than sad, that is heartbreaking.
Once I started Earth Documentary Resistance, I vowed that whatever was going on under this bridge, I wanted to know more and to make this one of the projects that would be documented since, as we all know, water is life. While there are certainly many instances where humans build structures more integrated with the surrounding environment, this was definitely not one of them. What I witness every time I cross this bridge is the epitome of how humans destroy an environment – even an entire ecosystem in attempts to force nature to conform to humanity and consequently, cause harm to others as the destruction spreads in a snowball effect.
The Hutchinson River
Finally sitting down and searching maps online, I learned this was actually the Hutchinson River that I had been observing when crossing the bridge. The bridge was part of Highway 1, locally known as Boston Road and had been a throughway for many years. There’s plenty of history about the Hutchinson River and this area, some of which can be found here.
Shocked this was actually a river – a waterway that is associated with movement, flow, current and of course, fish, turtles, birds, and other life, I wanted to know more. I’ve crossed many bridges in my life and always associated the water below with mysterious, silent stillness where a slower pace of life exists, out of the realm of the speedy hectic pace above. The exceptions would be times when the water rushed, even raged below, due to storms or snow melt, perhaps even overflowing its banks, yet still cradling the energy and force of the water within its heart, guiding and directing the water to the sea, as all rivers and waterways eventually terminate, assimilated into the greater bodies of water which support Earth itself.
Nowhere near as long, broad, or mighty as its neighbor the Hudson, the Hutchinson River is nevertheless a river in its own right and one that deserves much better than the neglect and abuse it presently endures.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way: my research brought me to the Hutchinson River Restoration Project, a dedicated group of individuals determined to bring the Hutchinson River back to life and to restore its beauty with the very people who actually lived on its banks but had limited or no access. Led by the soft-spoken but eloquent Eleanor Rae, the Hutchinson River Restoration Project works tirelessly to promote and restore the Hutchinson River for all to enjoy.
I reached out to Eleanor to inquire what did she know about the industry under the Boston Road, most notably the asphalt plants that were sitting directly upon the Hutchinson? It turned out her group had not yet made it up that far just yet, concentrating their efforts on opening access around the Co-Op City neighborhood just south of the bridge crossing Boston Road. Co-Op City, however, is one of the most famous neighborhoods in the Bronx, literally sitting right on the Hutchinson but until the Hutchinson River Restoration Project, there was no public access to the river. How is that even possible one might ask? Thankfully, the Hutchinson River Restoration Project did ask.
Eleanor was as stunned as I was to learn about the asphalt plants. Since she and her group were not immediately familiar with the area further up and when I mentioned I was planning to take photographs, she invited me to present at their December board meeting, to which I agreed.
Earth Documentary Resistance Documents the Hutchinson River at Boston Road
Thanksgiving morning was quite cold but clear as I loaded up my gear and made my way across the Bronx. I had planned on shooting the previous Sunday, but a front which brought forth considerable winds shut that plan down. The idea was to be there on a day that people, meaning company employees, would not necessarily be around and that I could take photographs without being questioned or impeded. Of course traffic would be less as well, which is always helpful.
While some of the photographs I took are shown in this article, the ones I used in the presentation to the board meeting of the Hutchinson River Restoration Project can be found here, downloadable as a pdf (it’s image-heavy so might take a minute to load). I am making them available for the simple reason that the public, as well as other interested organizations, need to see what is being done to the Hutchinson River within the boundaries of New York City. Tourists, visitors; so many people come to New York City every year (every day in fact) but rarely go beyond the confines of Manhattan, much less the Bronx. When they do it is in a few select areas such as Yankee Stadium, or the zoo, places known to be welcoming and inviting. For those of us who live, work, and raise families here, well, not all places look that inviting and it just doesn’t seem right. Maybe it also doesn’t have to be that way.
Of course it’s understood that industry has to exist some place and in days past, rivers were the roads which carried the goods for trade. Yes, we all get that. It’s also understood that even in 2017, barges are still a major source of transportation. Yet for all this understanding, some of us still need to remind others that water is one of the few select items on Earth that supports, nourishes and literally fosters the creation of life. My first article just before this one focused on wetlands and how the term “drain the swamp” was genuinely the worst thing anyone could say or do. Draining swamps is in reality tantamount to suicide. We humans – all of us – will not exist without water. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this – it’s an undisputable fact. What remains to be seen is whether or not people will come together soon enough to preserve what few resources are remaining and do so in a sustainable, ecologically sensible manner.
Collaboration: Earth Documentary Resistance with The Hutchinson River Restoration Project: December 18, 2017 download pdf here (image-heavy, please be patient)
Northerly View from the Bridge
*From this point forward, the discussion involves the presentation images as well as what’s posted here.
The view looking north from the top of the Hwy 1 (Boston Road) bridge over the Hutchinson is so full of structures and industry, completely lacking of actual scenery that when one is driving, it is very difficult to discern what is what. Even when one is standing still and taking time to delineate between the businesses, there is literally no space between them or the river bank. As it turns out, there are actually 2 asphalt plants on the Hutchinson.
RCA Asphalt, which appears to have an obsession with a company color palette, is one. Most notable are the cream yellow painted buildings with contrasting dark grey (almost black) trim. Not sure this takes away the contamination asphalt contributes to the environment but I suppose it makes the owner and employees feel a little better about what they are doing.
On page 26, one can clearly see piles of asphalt nearly as tall as the nearby telephone pole and definitely as tall as some of the company’s buildings, and 3 times as tall as box trucks parked in a parking lot next door. I can see how that cream yellow color would come in handy to brighten one’s day but I can’t help but wonder what do they do about the fumes?
Peckham Asphalt (not nearly so photogenic) is also situated there on the north side of the bridge and on page 32 there is a close up of some of their asphalt gravel piles as well as a barge docked and loaded. It’s unclear as to whether the barges are loaded or unloaded there but one might assume they are unloaded from the plants to the barges and then transported elsewhere after sale and for use.
What’s noteworthy here is how Eleanor was informed by officials in no uncertain terms that a small boat could not be used to travel up the Hutchinson because the water was not deep enough yet clearly this barge, loaded with asphalt, or gravel, or a mixture, has not exactly been airlifted in and placed upon the water.
Southerly View from the Bridge
Directly across the bridge, looking south-southwest, there is a paved, fenced off area which has a junk yard for cars directly across the street (page 33). This street, Hutchinson Avenue, drew my attention because of the freshly-paved area within the chain link fence but no visible means of access. No signs were posted either (at least I didn’t see any when I drove down there). The owner of the junkyard said he thought New York City had recently sold the property but wasn’t too clear on the details and to his knowledge, he didn’t believe there was any public access.
On page 34 you will see a series of 4 photos that better illustrate this area and its location. When I got to this point in the presentation, the members of the board spoke up about how they believed this was the same area discussed as possibly being the future location of a chlorination plant New York City wants to build in order to treat the Hutchinson River for its excessive bacteria count (see more here). This is an entirely different issue and one that can better be explained by the S.W.I.M. coalition.
Basically, excessive bacteria in the Hutchinson River poses health concerns but rather than attempt to use natural filtrators such as mussels and other bivalves, which have been used in other areas for water filtration, New York City wants to dump yet more contaminants (chlorine) into the water. It’s true the clams or mussels would most likely not be for human consumption (see here). Both shellfish and biovalves are used elsewhere successfully for water filtration naturally as done at the Danish Shellfish Center, also discussed here. There is an abundance of data supporting the use of mussels, even supporting the restoration of environmentally-threatened mussels. The UK released a report in 2014 reviewing similar uses. Canada’s Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences also released a report in 2011 on the use of bivalves and water filtration. Clearly, there is international inclination that a more sensible approach to water filtration is possible. Absolutely no reason exists for New York City, a city known for its global leadership, not to try a more environmentally-friendly approach!
Supported by S.W.I.M, Earth Documentary Resistance, Hutchinson River Restoration Project and other nonprofits, as well as citizens all support the use of bivalves (mussels, clams, etc.) as a more economic and earth-friendly, common sense approach to a serious issue and one that, at the very least, should be attempted first.
New York City, on the other hand, wants to forego the science, urging the dumping of chlorine into the water to the tune of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, claiming this is better for all concerned. Really. You can read more here how it was tried on the Bronx River but fortunately, people emphatically resisted. Now there’s apparently a plan to try it on the Hutchinson in NYC; here’s a direct link to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Hutchinson River and Westchester Creek CSO Long Term Control Plan which mentions the chlorination facility.
Indeed, the photo below from p. 14 of this plan shows a yellow box designated as a “new disinfection facility.”
Apparently this asphalt-paved area was clear-cut recently, much to the shock and dismay of various local environmentalists who attended the meeting and have been involved in this discussion, which is why it’s so important to have documentary visuals taken of critical areas. When I saw it, the photos I took made me immediately ask why isn’t this area being used for public access to the river? If any waterfront property was suitable for public access, this certainly is. Minus the pavement, of course.
On pgs. 34-35 one can see how lovely a setting this would be for picnic tables and perhaps a playground, since there doesn’t seem to be any close by. Despite the industry on the other side of the bridge, this is a very residential area as well with very little green space.
Unfortunately, it is also questionable as to what besides bacteria has been or is being dumped into the Hutchinson as on page 36, and then a close up on page 37, one can see the soil on the riverbank is anything but healthy in appearance. Stunning close-ups highlight the greyish-black color and texture which absolutely reeks of apocalyptic desecration and toxic exposure. Just a recap – New York City wants to dump yet more chemicals into the water here, specifically, chlorine. Interestingly enough, it cannot be stated whether bivalves (mussels, clams, oysters) would survive in this water, because, for one slight detail, no one seems to be able to report on what’s actually in the water. The fact bivalves have been used in other areas would certainly suggest the possibility of being successful here. Moreover, it would be at a fraction of the cost. Hence, what could be the harm in trying versus adding yet another contaminant at an astronomical cost not just in monetary terms to taxpayers but also the environment?
Under the Bridge
(Note: This remaining discussion is out of order from the other pages of the presentation due to a more significant amount of information in this report vs. what was provided at the actual board meeting.)
As there are few reasons for anyone to drive under the bridge because there is little access to other streets, it’s clear this is an area that is also sorely neglected and continuously abused. Pages 10 through 16 show that people aren’t just littering here – they are dumping illegally and indiscriminately on an ongoing basis.
Contractors and others who run businesses on a shoestring don’t want to pay to discard their work-related refuse so they search for places like this to dump their garbage, wastes and empty containers. At first sight one might ask what can be done about this since (1) it’s such an out-of-the-way place and (2) who cares since it’s under a bridge?
No. 2 is clearly the most difficult to address as yes, people doand should care. Garbage and refuse need to be properly disposed of and our waterways should not be considered the place to do this. For far too long, many people look at waterways as places to dispose of unwanted items, for whatever reason. Education is important and here it is of the utmost importance! No, this is not the place to dump trash or unwanted materials!
As to how to stop the illegal dumping: pages 20 and 21, also under the bridge just facing a different direction, clearly illustrate that New York City has established an office for the Sidewalk & Inspection program within feet of where this dumping is taking place. How difficult would it be to mount cameras above the area, pointing at the riverbank where dumping is being done, and using this to catch perpetrators? Establishing fines which escalate after repeated offenses would certainly pay for such monitoring, along with pulling business licenses away from anyone associated with a business caught dumping materials belonging to that business who hold such licenses. There are cameras mounted all over New York City – certainly there can be cameras mounted and monitored here.
The Hutchinson River may not be as grand or significant as the Hudson, but that doesn’t mean New York City or anyone else should be taking it for granted. In fact, no river anywhere should ever be taken for granted. We are blessed with having such plentiful water sources here in New York! Using our rivers and streams as waste disposal, or simply allowing pollutants to enter without regard for the consequences, is not just ignorant but should be considered environmental crimes of the highest degree as the harm inflicted effects us all. Moreover, disregarding water resources as a necessity not just for people but for all living creatures, is simply arrogant and foolish.
Please reach out to the Hutchinson River Restoration Project for more information on how you can help restore the Hutchinson River. Please also contact your elected officials to encourage the use of bivalves (mussels, oysters, clams) for water filtration before chlorination! For more information on how you can contribute time, funds, or just become involved with Earth Documentary Resistance, please contact us directly on our website or post a message on our Facebook page.
This article has been presented as a part of the mission of Earth Documentary Resistance, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to documentary storytelling: Because Humanity is Changing Our Planet.
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