Word had gotten out — it was never confirmed
— that there was hospital waste like syringes, gowns and diapers on
the barge that had contaminated its contents.
North Carolina officials also argued that they didn’t have room
for New York City’s trash.
Rejected by its former courtier, the barge,
called the Mobro 4000, became an orphan.
The crew of the barge’s Louisiana-based tugboat, the Break of
Dawn, dragged it down the east coast and around Florida to its home
port, and was rejected there, too.
As the maligned barge made its way along the
United States coast, it triggered inflammatory headlines in countless
towns it passed, as well as discussion about what to do with the
millions of tons of garbage Americans produce every day.
The unfortunate owner of the trash was
businessman Lowell Harrelson, who planned to experiment on converting
the waste to methane fuel.
The strange and remarkable odyssey of the Mobro,
however, spanned hundreds of miles
and 74 days,.
The ship headed to Mexico, where it was turned
back by the Mexican navy. Then
onto Belize, British Honduras, where the unloved barge found another
With no where left to go, the Mobro trolled its
way back towards Queens, where Harrelson felt sure he could reach a
disposal agreement with local officials.
What Harrelson found instead was the determined resistance of a
woman who he compared to “a few dozen Mexican navies” — Borough
President Claire Shulman.
Harrelson wanted to anchor the Mobro off Queens
and truck the garbage across the borough to the Long Island town of
Islip, where it was to be disposed in a landfill. But Shulman petitioned
the Queens Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order, keeping
the ship at sea.
By June 1987, the waste on the Mobro had been
refused by six states, three nations and Shulman. Harrelson said that Shulman’s intransigence was costing him
$5,000 a day.
As June wore on and the garbage rotted off
Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn in the 95-degree heat, Shulman and Islip Town
Supervisor Frank Jones entered into a trashy verbal dispute.
“Mayor Koch and Claire Shulman can haul the
garbage into Gracie Mansion and compost it on the front lawn along with
the rest of the garbage that visits Gracie Mansion,” Jones said.
The Donahue Show hosted Shulman, Jones, Harrelson and the most
famous garbage in the universe.
It was Queens vs. the City; the Corporation
Counsel and Health Department both said the garbage isn’t toxic.
Shulman, backed by the Manhattan-based New
York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), testified in court that the tests
were done only on surface samples, not on the garbage that lay
Shulman and NYPIRG’s lobbying, combined with
extensive media coverage was a success.
Queens judge Angelo Graci upheld a stay —
twice — keeping the barge floating off the Brooklyn shoreline at
The court challenges ended, along with the saga of the Mobro barge, in September. The City’s Department of Sanitation worked out a deal with the Town of Islip, where managers agreed to accept ash from the garbage after it was incinerated at the Brooklyn plant.