Category Archives: Press

Exploring the archipelago of New York City by canoe and kayak

To Jens Rasmussen, a very spe­cial part of New York City lies part­way between Green­point, Brook­lyn and mid­town Man­hat­tan. You can some­times find him there, in the East River, bob­bing in a kayak and tak­ing in the spec­tac­u­lar view with other mem­bers of the North Brook­lyn Boat Club who have pad­dled out from Greenpoint.

Those tidal forces that push through the East River are awe­some. To expe­ri­ence the river in such close prox­im­ity and jux­ta­posed with Manhattan’s sky­scrap­ers is pro­found. It really rocks people’s worlds.”

Rasmussen points out that NYC is an arch­i­pel­ago and the water is the largest open space in the city. He believes access to it is a birthright for all New Yorkers.

New York­ers often expect water­ways around the city to be dirty, and thus unap­peal­ing for activ­i­ties like kayak­ing, but over the past sev­eral decades water qual­ity has dra­mat­i­cally improved. As a result, boat clubs have been pop­ping up in the five bor­oughs and more and more New York­ers are begin­ning to take advan­tage of what the water has to offer.

Exploring the archipelago of New York City by canoe and kayak

Prep­ping for a pad­dle out into the East River. (Photo: NBBC)

The North Brook­lyn Boat Club hails from New­town Creek, a hub of indus­try through the 19th and 20th cen­turies and once home to dozens of refiner­ies for oil and chem­i­cals. The EPA des­ig­nated New­town Creek a Super­fund site in 2010, and a years-long process of reme­di­a­tion is underway.

Rasmussen, who is com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor of the boat club, and his fel­low mem­bers are now also work­ing to reclaim the his­tor­i­cally pol­luted inlet for recre­ation. These pio­neers formed the North Brook­lyn Boat Club (NBBC) in 2012 to pro­mote access to clean, safe water­ways, increase par­tic­i­pa­tion, and get peo­ple to care about the waterfront.

Exploring the archipelago of New York City by canoe and kayak

Photo: Klaus Schoenweise

Today, indus­tri­al­iza­tion may have left the area, but there are still other sources of pol­lu­tion to worry about, from street lit­ter to com­bined sewage overflows.

The club’s new “Don’t Put Your Butt in the Creek” pro­gram seeks to build dis­tinc­tive cig­a­rette dis­pos­als on street cor­ners and to pro­vide infor­ma­tion on the impact of street lit­ter on water qual­ity.  When heavy rains fall, garbage on the streets of Green­point is washed down into New­town Creek, con­tribut­ing to the pol­lu­tion of the waterway.

Fur­ther exac­er­bat­ing the prob­lem, New York’s waste water sys­tem car­ries sewage and storm water in the same pipes. Runoff from heavy rains can tem­porar­ily over­whelm the intake capac­ity of the city’s treat­ment plants, caus­ing untreated sewage and storm water to be diverted and released directly into sur­round­ing water­ways. This type of event is called a com­bined sewage over­flow (CSO) dis­charge. The New­town Creek Alliance’s Weather in the Water­shed pro­gram sends out tweets and texts to inform NBBC and res­i­dents through­out the area about CSOs so that they can stay safe and still enjoy their time out on the water.

The club is inter­ested not only in mon­i­tor­ing the health of the waters but in look­ing for ways to improve it.  Their EDshed Pro­gram, cur­rently in devel­op­ment, will be an onsite edu­ca­tional cen­ter for researchers to study the ecol­ogy of the creek, includ­ing wet­lands restora­tion, fil­ter feed­ers and plankton.

Despite the prob­lems of pol­lu­tion, Rasmussen points out, “New York City’s water­ways are cleaner than they’ve been in our life­time thanks to the Clean Water Act.” He acknowl­edges con­cerns from peo­ple about health and safety, but advises that with the proper pre­cau­tions it is safe.

Exploring the archipelago of New York City by canoe and kayak

Photo Credit: Willis Elkins

Most of the mem­bers of the club reside in Green­point, Brook­lyn, but they have had peo­ple join from all around the city. They also attract a broader mem­ber­ship through pub­lic pad­dles and even by catch­ing peo­ple walk­ing by over the Pulaski Bridge.

There are many oppor­tu­ni­ties through­out the five bor­oughs to start ven­tur­ing out onto the city’s waters. The New York City Water Trail Asso­ci­a­tion web­site lists over 26 dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tions in the New York metro area that are pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to join in the fun.   

Sum­mer is almost here. It’s time to go out and claim your birthright, New Yorkers!


See original piece by Jocelyn Dupre for City Atlas


Greenpoint’s Newtown Creek Boathouse Is Still in the Works

Greenpoint's Newtown Creek Boathouse Is Still in the Works

North Brooklyn Boathouse

Curbed: Greenpoint’s Newtown Creek Boathouse Is Still in the Works

Since 2011, a handful of passionate Brooklyn residents have dreamed of a boathouse and environmental education center in Greenpoint. Their dream is far from dead, but it has certainly taken on a different form. Last night, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) hosted a public meeting in Long Island City where various organizations gave updates on projects around the Newtown Creek. There, North Brooklyn Boat Club (NBBC) members delivered a blow-by-blow of how plans have evolved—in a somewhat circuitous way—to their current status.

The boathouse project began as a $3 million project at the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center at 1155-1205 Manhattan Avenue. Negotiations commenced, but in the end an agreement could not be reached to situate the NBBC which would operate the boathouse, at that site. Nonprofit City Parks Foundation, which, to put things as simply as possible, is actually responsible for getting the boathouse built, paid one architect until the project’s lack of progress rendered that firm unavailable. Then funds were spent hiring a second architect. Madonna Architects received $3,000, and Ed Weinstein Architects received $36,444.13.

President of the North Brooklyn Boat Club Dewey Thompson made it clear at last night’s meeting that, despite the delay in its planned HQ, the boat club is already an active organization with over 250 members and a mailing list that reaches over 1,000. In addition to boating, it hosts events related to nautical crafts and composting, and even have days when the public is invited to paddle. (The next one is May 3.) They also do guided tours of the Newtown Creek in association with the Newtown Creek Alliance. The NBBC’s Jens Rasmussen said the club received a $20,000 grant three years ago to purchase boats and safety equipment. But, he added, the rest of its financial needs have been met by donations, dues, fundraisers such as Halloween and solstice parties, and by picking through trash.

The club is currently operating out of a temporary location at 51 Ash Street. That site is owned by Broadway Stages, and negotiations are now underway to build the boathouse at that location instead of the Manhattan Avenue one. There are renderings, but due to ongoing negotiations, Thompson said the NBBC cannot share them at this time.

Several outlets have made allegations about unsavory spending and other agendas related to the slow-moving project; Thompson sought to refute them. First of all, none of that initial $3 million earmarked for the original boathouse has ever been received by the NBBC, nor will it ever be. That $3 million was for the City Parks Foundation to actually build the boathouse; meanwhile, a revised budget for the 51 Ash Street site has not yet been released.

When it comes to Queens Crap’s report that “one of the boathouse regulars got a $20,000 grant to paint a mural,” Thompson replied that he knows of no such mural. According to QC, the mural is supposedly part of another project that the boat club is working on in Maspeth, Queens. As for New York Shitty’s assertion that boathouse funds are being used for a “transient hotel,” Thompson said that landlord Broadway Stages is working on its own separate commercial plans for the site, but hasn’t announced what their function (or functions) will be.

A few of the several dozen in attendance said they felt out of the loop about the boathouse construction’s progress. The NBBC and the City Parks Foundation, who already have regular newsletters, said they would consider sending out more updates on the boathouse project, even if those updates would be communicating that there is nothing new to communicate. Stay tuned.

See original piece by Evan Bindelglass for Curbed

Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.

What is Really Going on with the North Brooklyn Boathouse?

North Brooklyn Boathouse

North Brooklyn Boathouse

What is Really Going on with the North Brooklyn Boathouse?

So a lot is going on with the Newtown Creek Environmental Benefit Project. Or nothing is going on with it. It really depends on who you ask.

Wednesday night (4/23), a progress meeting on the project was held in Long Island City. Michelle Moore from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) kicked things off, and almost immediately voices were raised questioning funding and lack of progress. Even Joseph Lentol, the New York State Assemblyman that represents Greenpoint, expressed his disappointment at the lack of progress with the project so far.

Stating that the funding awarded should be dealt out to “heal the wounds” of the neighborhood, he accused the DEC of “sitting on money.” A total of $10 million was awarded for the Newtown Creek Environmental Benefit project with $7 million going to the City Parks Foundation and $3 million awarded to the Hudson River Fund. After Lentol left to attend to other matters in Williamsburg, both departments made their cases.

A representative from the Hudson River Foundation addressed the crowd first, explaining the grant cycles and process,“We have to do it right and we only get one chance to do it. We want to get the money out quickly, but we also want it to be right.”

Lisa Garrison, Program Director at the foundation explained that the grant process began in 2011. One of their main goals was to educate the public about the creek and get people involved. They gave a number of small grants to different organizations that got people out on the water in Queens and Brooklyn. Teaming up with the Newtown Creek Alliance, Newtown Creek Armada, GWAPP, and others, they organized water taxi rides, horticultural classes with students at PS 31, the training of 300 “citizen pruners” to maintain new trees, art installations to encourage people to visit the nature walk, and more.

City Parks explained that their responsibility isn’t to select projects, but to implement them after they’ve been selected. Alison Tocci, the president of CPF, updated the crowd on the progress. She explained that 88 percent of the funds awarded are currently unspent. So far, CPF has put money towards the construction of the boathouse, wetland frames, the Dutch Kills park basin, and administrative fees.

That’s when the crowd chimed in. People had a lot of questions on how money is being spent in regards to the boathouse, and why the public wasn’t being updated on the progress. Basically, the original site of the boathouse, the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) was eventually deemed unsuitable for the project. This was after lots of back and forth about the lease, all of which was done without notifying the public. The NBBC was advised not to tell the public about lease dealings, although the Boat Club’s almost 250 members were occasionally given updates. Since the $3 million was only allotted to the building of the boathouse, none of it has been spent. The new site is actually projected to bring the project under budget, which will allow the CPF to give that money to other projects.

It was decided the GMDC was an unsuitable location for a number of reasons, chief among them that they didn’t want to hold any kind of educational programs there (which was one of the main goals of the boathouse project from the start). Since choosing a location needs to fit the criteria of education, proximity to the creek, and boating programs, the lease fell through. The new location at Broadway Stages fits all the criteria originally outlined in the project scope, but that lease is also not finalized.

Now, should the public have been informed of all this? That remains up for debate and at the end of the meeting, the issue of who would be informing the public of what and when leases would be finalized remained up in the air. The CPF seemed open to the task of sending newsletter updates to people interested in the specific projects, but they remained adamant that keeping the public informed about leasing agreements, or the lack thereof in this case, isn’t the way to do business and frankly, isn’t always interesting.

So while it seems the meeting cleared up a lot of confusion about the dealings of the boathouse, I came away wondering if all the money – the small amount that has actually been allotted, anyway – was really being put to the best use. While all of the staff, volunteers, and members of these organizations are clearly very passionate about the future of Newtown Creek, having multiple small organizations with the similar missions of “promoting access and education to the creek” seems like a redundancy. On the other hand, as one audience member stated in regards to the boathouse, “membership has been growing even through all of these lease failures.” The residents of Queens and Brooklyn are clearly passionate about Newtown Creek and having safe, healthy access to it. Hopefully everyone can agree on the best way to do that soon (and we’ll keep you posted on progress).

See original piece on North Brooklyn Boathouse by Susan Torres from Greenpointers

Next City: Surfers, Sailors & Other Waterborne Urbanites on Sandy’s Legacy

Hurricane Sandy took her for a little spin

Hurricane Sandy took her for a little spin

For millions of New Yorkers, the evening of October 29, 2012, was their first real, transformative encounter with the city’s vast waterfront. Certainly, before the night Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge overwhelmed river banks and dunes and protective systems, almost everyone who lives in or visits New York had crossed a bridge or been to the beach or enjoyed a peaceful moment where water and the built environment meet. But it wasn’t until October 29 that the city’s 520 miles of coastline were truly laid bare for all to see, and for hundreds of thousands to suffer.

For some New Yorkers, however, that night was a long time coming. The kayakers, surfers, fishermen and sailors that spend their days on the water surrounding the city are well aware of its awesome power. Now, a year and a half into recovery, this group of aquatic urbanites has some very particular thoughts on what happened and what should be done next.

Jens Rasmussen, a founding member of the North Brooklyn Boat Club, is an actor by trade and an adventurer and environmental advocate when time permits. He’s been leading kayak and canoe trips on the East River and Newtown Creek since 2010. “When Sandy hit,” he says, “the club could have lost everything. We keep our equipment in shipping containers at the water’s edge, and if a member hadn’t chained the container nearest to the water to an anchor onshore, that container and all the ones behind it would have floated away in the storm surge.” “A boat we’re restoring did float away,” he continues. “The next day a team paddled out from our base in Greenpoint [in Brooklyn] to search for it and found it on some riprap in the Bronx.”

Rasmussen and the North Brooklyn Boat Club believe that wetland restoration, an idea being explored by the city, is one of the most sensible and effective strategies for protecting New York moving forward. “We know wetlands restoration is superior at storm-surge attenuation. It can absorb and dissipate very large amounts of water,” he says. “We also think it’s a good quality of life and natural beauty feature that can be added to abandoned parts of our waterfront.” Land behind the existing pockets of wetlands, he says, faired far better than the land behind bulkheads and unprotected banks.

Cody Daniels, a 42-year-old surfer who travels to Rockaway Beach in Queens whenever the waves look good, says the surf community was devastated by Sandy. “Over the years, I’ve seen big storms and huge erosion,” he says, “but Sandy just crushed Rockaway. It was third world for months afterwards.” Surfers didn’t go back in the water for a long time. “We didn’t know what kind of chemicals or waste or chunks of trash or spears of rebar might be out there. And you don’t really want to surf when all these families are trying to piece their lives back together. There were a lot of cleanup efforts and some guys volunteered to help rebuild and provide aid.” “I think a lot of people see the Rockaways as more vulnerable now,” he continues. “I know some homeowners want a seawall, but some others think that the waves and the ocean and what’s happening are part of what living on the beach is about. I tend to agree with them, you know, like, you have to accept that risk.”

Lech Zawadzki, an electrician who fishes in the East River says he wasn’t surprised by the storm, but the city’s response bothered him. “Rivers flood sometimes.” he says. “The mayor and the officials should know this and know how to get power back on and fix things quickly.” His own apartment didn’t have power for two weeks. “If it wasn’t for friends, my family would have been homeless. We did not know what to do and no one told us.” The gasoline shortages were a problem too. “I spent days in line for gas when I should have been working to get power back in people’s houses,” he says. “Next time, the city needs to focus on getting the basics back quickly and telling people what to expect.”

Despite their different experiences and outlook, each of these men familiar with the rivers and oceans around New York said something about how Sandy reminded city dwellers that they’re all water people. This, they all agreed, was a good thing. “Awareness and stewardship are inextricably linked,” says Rasmussen. “It’s a central belief of the Boat Club that recreating on blue open spaces in the city, by paddling, we, New Yorkers, all people, learn to value the water and to see how our choices and policies effect the health of the water and the city.”

Next City: Surfers, Sailors and Other Waterborne Urbanites on Sandy’s Legacy, by Graham T. Beck