By Bill Parry

She should have been shopping for her wedding dress, but the lure of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant was too much for Alexandra Hiniker. The 35-year-old representative to the United Nations for PAX, an international peace organization in the Netherlands, was one of the 300 visitors to take part in the Department of Environmental Protection’s 5th annual Valentine’s Day Tour of the largest water treatment plant in the city.

The soon-to-be resident of Jackson Heights had tickets with her fiance Arthur Starr, but he couldn’t make the tour because of an illness in the family. Hiniker grabbed a friend from Greenpoint to join her.

“Arthur lives in Jackson Heights so we drive past this plant all the time and I’m absolutely fascinated by it,” she said staring down at the plant’s eight futuristic 145-foot tall “Digester Eggs” that each hold 3 million gallons of sludge on the Brooklyn side of Newtown Creek across from Queens.

Most of the visitors took the tour for the views from an observation deck on top of the digesters. Many came for the 20-minute lecture about the inner workings of the plant beforehand.

“I guess you can say that I’m in the business, working at the Department of Sanitation for 29 years,” Maspeth resident Joseph Grodzki said. “Me and my wife Susan took the tour last year and we decided to bring our kids this time.”

Daughters Roxanne and Rachael enjoyed the views from the observation deck and so did Rachael’s boyfriend, Brendan Hillbrand, of Middle Village.

“This place is really cool, but I wish I’d dressed more warmly,” he said.

As the Grodzki family took photos, Hiniker was racing about taking in more information as a DEP tour guide continued the lecture.

“In addition to my work at the U.N., I’m taking courses in urban planning at Hunter,” she said. “I can’t get enough of urban planning.”

In fact, her wedding next month will take place at the Baltimore Museum of Industry on that city’s Inner Harbor. The couple will then settle in Jackson Heights.

“I can’t wait to live there full time,” Hiniker said. “I’ve worked all over the world and Jackson Heights is so international that you feel like you’ve gone overseas.”

Next year she plans on returning to the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, with her new husband to celebrate their first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds. “He’s got to see this place,” she said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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