The Floating Island At Island Creek Park

July 29, 2018

The installation of an innovative
living phytoremediation river cleaning machine

On a steamy wet Thursday morning at the end of July I threw my kayak into the back of my pickup and brought it down to Island Creek Park, which is on the Hudson River waterfront next to the Port of Albany.  Not something I do too often in the middle of the week, but this was a special occasion, the Floating Island Release Party.  Since I take a keen interest in the spillage of raw sewage into the Hudson River along the South End I had to be sure to be there.  And I even got to help out a little bit.

Rain had been falling earlier that morning like it had been all week but it didn’t look like the event was going to be cancelled.  Scott Kellog of the Radix Center, the South End’s innovative urban farm, is not the sort to let a little rain upend his plans, or in this case a sky that looked like it would open up and drown us any second.  As it turned out the rain held off until the end of the event, after the Floating Island had been released into the river and functioning to his satisfaction.

Scott Kellogg Of Radix Center Contemplates The Newly Assembled Floating Island Scott Kellogg Of Radix Center Contemplates The Newly Assembled Floating Island

Mr. Kellog and his partner Stacy Pettigrew began the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in 2009 on several adjacent empty lots covered with decaying asphalt, located on the other side of Lincoln Park from my house.  Since then they have built an impressive two story almost fossil fuel free greenhouse for year round cultivation, laid out an array of above ground garden plots that yield a surplus of vegetables each year, and maintain a pen full of farm animals that all have names so you know they get treated well and don’t get eaten.

The Radix farm has built mutually beneficial relationships with the City government and with various City agencies, with the local public schools, with nearby colleges and universities, with various local businesses, and of course with the surrounding neighborhoods of the South End.  Their purpose according to their website “is to promote ecological literacy and environmental stewardship through educational programs based around demonstrations of sustainable technologies.”  I would add that the Radix farm is an excellent example of an economic driver built by hard work and innovation, of finding an unnoticed niche and using it to fill a community need.

The Deck Of The Floating Island Ready To Go The Deck Of The Floating Island Ready To Go

I arrived at Island Creek Park about 9:30AM a half hour before the scheduled launch of the Floating Island to find that the participants in the project, the majority of them young students, were already there along with most of the device.  The last pieces arrived by pickup truck just as I did and they were carefully lifted out of the bed and laid on the grass next to the other pieces.  It was a strange and wonderful collection of objects.

Fortunately a young lady named Justina was announcing that she was there to explain how the Island worked for anyone who was interested, so I interviewed her.  A chemistry major at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, she had actually worked on the design of the Island during her last semester.  Now as part of the City of Albany Summer Youth Program she split her time this summer between working on this project and teaching others in the program.

RPI Chemistry Major Justina Who Helped Design The Island RPI Chemistry Major Justina Who Helped Design The Island

That last bit was very interesting to me.  A little later former Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro, who had come to watch, told me that this sort of active educational partnership had become the norm in the City Youth Program after Kathy Sheehan became mayor in 2015.  Many of us remember all too well how the summer youth program operated under her predecessors, groups of kids being paid to roam around the City parks and pick up litter, but mostly goofing off instead of diligently carrying out their busywork.  This now seems a much better use of my tax dollars, assigning young people to help and learn with the urban farm.

Justina explained that the purpose of the Island is phytoremediation.  That’s a big word my spell checker doesn’t like, but it expresses a process that may very well be one of the keys to a safe and happy future for us all.  Certainly this innovative device sounds like a straightforward practical way to clean up the river flowing past the South End or any body of water.  From Wikipedia:

Phytoremediation (from Ancient Greek meaning ‘restoring balance’) refers to the technologies that use living plants to clean up soil, air, and water contaminated with hazardous contaminants.  It is defined as “the use of green plants and the associated microorganisms… to either contain, remove or render toxic environmental contaminants harmless”.