New York Times - 11 Jul 87

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 29 Oct 09)

Trash Barge To End Trip In Brooklyn

Published: Saturday, July 11, 1987

The 112-day odyssey of the Mobro, the world's most famous garbage barge, appeared to be over today as New York City agreed to burn its load at an incinerator in Brooklyn.

The agreement - announced by Thomas C. Jorling, the new commissioner of the State Department of Environmental Conservation - involves unloading and burning the 3,100 tons of garbage at the Southwest Incinerator on Bay 41st Street in the Bensonhurst section. The resulting 400 tons of ash would be trucked by private carrier, officials said, to the Islip municipal landfill in Hauppauge.

As it traveled more than 5,000 miles in search of a home, the Mobro became a national symbol of the country's worsening problem with solid-waste management and disposal. In announcing the agreement to end the battles over the barge - which have involved at least five states and two foreign countries - officials said that its travails had clearly changed the public's perceptions of trash.

The barge will not move from its anchorage in Gravesend Bay for at least a week, officials said, as the city prepares the incinerator to accept the barge and its contents. Effort to Block the Plan

But in a move that could delay the unloading further, officials in the office of Borough President Howard Golden of Brooklyn said they planned to seek a temporary restraining order to block the plan.

"We were not involved in any of the negotiations between the state and the city," said Marilyn Gelber, the executive assistant to Mr. Golden. "What bothered us is that we have questions," she said, "We would have liked to explore the alternatives during the negotiations rather than having been faced with this fait accompli."

Mayor Koch, in a statement, said he understood Mr. Golden's concern. But he added, "I hope he'll understand my need to serve the entire city."

Lowell Harrelson, the building contractor from Bay Minette, Ala., who owns the garbage on the Mobro, said today in a telephone interview that he had not agreed to pay any of the estimated $80,000 cost to dispose of the trash. Still Seeking Landfill Site

"I will, however, cooperate in any way I can with Mr. Jorling to resolve the situation," Mr. Harrelson said, adding that he is still seeking a state or country that will allow him to open a 35-acre landfill that would produce methane gas.

Although Mr. Harrelson declined to say how much the Mobro's travels have cost him and his partners, a source close to him said the trip had cost almost $1 million.

City and state officials said they were unsure who would pay the $80,000 needed to unload and dump the trash.

Indeed, they disagreed over how much it would cost. Vito A. Turso, a spokesman for the city Department of Sanitation, put the city's costs at $175,000, while state officials said it would involve expenditures of no more than $80,000.

Ever since May 16, when the Break of Dawn, the tugboat that had pulled the Mobro, arrived in New York Harbor, city and state officials have been involved in often contentious negotiations over where to place the garbage.

The Queens Borough President, Claire Shulman, - citing concerns that the trash was toxic and therefore hazardous -went to court to block the city from unloading the barge in Long Island City, Queens. But a State Supreme Court judge declared the trash to be nonhazardous in late May and lifted a restraining order against its unloading.

City officials, however, continued to block the barge from docking until a plan could be approved to remove the trash to a landfill in this South Shore community.

Islip officials, who used the publicity about the barge to win state approval to extend the life of their municipal landfill, said they had not agreed to waive their $40 a ton tipping fee. But since the trash will have been reduced to 400 tons - from 3,100 tons - the tipping fee will be reduced to $16,000, from $124,000. Pleased With Agreement

Frank Jones, the Islip Town Supervisor, hailed the agreement between the city and the state, saying his town had benefited from the negotiations.

"We are ending up with only 400 tons and we are still getting our $40 a ton," he said. "We are still getting our tipping fee and we will have more room in our landfill."

City and Islip officials suggested that today's agreement came about through the efforts of Mr. Jorling, who won State Senate confirmation to his post a little more than two weeks ago.

In a brief telephone interview, Mr. Jorling, a former official of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and a former professor at Williams College, said he spent much of his first two weeks "finding a path through the thicket" of the barge situation.

"We've been trying to resolve the technical, financial and political limitations," he said.

Those limitations include the need to dredge the area around the Southwest Incinerator and build a ramp to allow forklifts to unload the trash. Also, he said, he had to insure that the bales would be inspected thoroughly once they were removed from the barge to insure that no hazardous materials were overlooked.