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New Boathouse On Tap for Newtown Creek Kayakers

By Meredith Hoffman | January 17, 2012 3:42pm
The North Brooklyn Boat Club will offer canoeing and kayaking from its own space this spring.
The North Brooklyn Boat Club will offer canoeing and kayaking from its own space this spring.
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North Brooklyn Boat Club

GREENPOINT — Boating on Newtown Creek will soon be as simple as showing up to the shore.

The North Brooklyn Boat Club expects to bring about 30 canoes and kayaks to a slice of land by the Pulaski Bridge at Ash Street this coming May.

The spot will also include an outdoor environmental education center for students to learn about the dramatic history of pollution at Newtown Creek — the inlet that separates northern Brooklyn from Queens.

"We live on an archipelago, and it is our right to be in the water," said Boat Club member Jens Rasmussen. "We're going to be an educational community group that teaches people how to go out on the water, and that also teaches about the history and environmental issues on Newtown Creek."

The club will do landscaping and place shipping containers in the currently weed-strewn, 150-by-20-foot plot owned by film company Broadway Stages. The group will remain there until its final $3 million home in the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center on Manhattan Avenue is ready in the next few years.

"We've been borrowing other people's facilities to do programs," said club member Dewey Thompson, whose 30-member organization held activities with the Long Island City Community Boathouse last year that took boats out into Newtown Creek. "But now we'll have our own."

He said the boat trips will either be free or "very affordable" for the public.

This summer the club secured $25,000 from the Hudson River Park Foundation, and their future permanent boathouse, run by the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning, will receive up to $5 million in state money

Those funds came from fines the Department of Environmental Protection paid to the state for incurring violations during its building of a waste-water treatment plant in the creek, which spanned two decades, Thompson explained.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently labeled the creek, which suffered decades of oil spills estimated up to 30 million gallons, a "superfund" site. As a result more agencies will receive funds for creek-related projects this year.

As for the boat club project, Rasmussen hopes its interim spot hints at the possibilities to come.

"We'll be able to have some kind of programming this summer, so when the boathouse opens we can hit the ground running."

Recently the Department of Environmental Protection "got nervous" about having people enter the polluted water and banned boating briefly, Thompson said. As a result his club and other organizations supporting nautical activities agreed to post signs warning against swimming in, drinking, or eating fish from the water.

While Thompson said the pollution at the back of the creek and in the sediment can be harmful, he said the mouth of the creek is cleaner since the tides constantly flush water in and out.

"Newtown Creek is an amazing test case of the effects of pollution," he said, "and of the rebound of ecological elements in this blighted area."