Plastic bags and condoms pile up there, sewage floods in when it rains, and it was the site of an oil spill estimated at three times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Schuck, 52, lived in his Commercial Street loft in Greenpoint for years before his landlord installed the fire door that opens onto the mouth of Newtown Creek.
At first, he saw only the strip of land, a fair-weather addition to his artist studio. But hours spent clearing trash and prepping garden beds expanded his outlook.
“I realized, hey, this is waterfront property,” Schuck said. “I should get a boat.”
He said neigbors thought he was crazy for wanting to kayak the polluted waterway, but attitudes have evolved in recent years. Today, boating clubs ply the creek, and skimmer boats sometimes come to clear the trash that flows in from storm drains around Brooklyn and Queens.
Last year the federal government committed to a Superfund cleanup of Newtown Creek.
From his doorway, Schuck has watched the ebb and flow over time.
“Water quality changes a lot with the tides,” he said. “Sometimes it will look really bad, and sometimes it will look great. You know, clear-not clear water, but no trash in it.”
Schuck signed on as a co-plaintiff with the Riverkeeper organization in a lawsuit against ExxonMobil over its decades-old underground oilspill. The decision against the company by a federal judge last November put over $25 million towards creek improvements.
“It’s not going to be a pristine body of water in my lifetime, but that’s the beauty of citizen
participation,” Schuck said. “It’s gotten better because people have gotten active and care about it. If the citizens don’t care, then for sure the politicians and the polluters don’t.”
Schuck will show work in the Williamsburg 2000 group show at Art 101 (101 Grand St.), opening March 12.