NEW YORK — Bobbing at anchor in warm sunshine in Gravesend Bay within sight of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, "The Barge" is New York City's latest tourist attraction--testimony to society's spillage and the sensibilities of officials in three countries and five states.
After a 6,000-mile odyssey of rejection, the garbage barge that couldn't unload sailed into fresh trouble Monday: a court order barring the removal of its 3,186 tons of refuse. The plan--after almost two months of frustration during which officials in North Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas turned up their noses at the barge--was to truck its bales of industrial garbage back to the point where most of them originated on Long Island.
Refuse to Be Inspected
But, fearing a health hazard, state Supreme Court Justice Angelo Graci approved a request by New York City lawyers for a delay until health inspectors could determine just how fetid the cargo is after all its time at sea.
"We want to do our own inspection and do it now," Doron Gopstein, a lawyer representing the city, told Justice Graci.
"Ours is not to question why," said David Soto, a crewman on the Break of Dawn, the tug hauling the unwanted cargo. "We just go where they tell us."
Duffy St. Pierre, the tugboat's captain, was less philosophical. "I can get like one of my grandfather's old mules," St. Pierre said. "You had to get a stick to make them move."
Municipal officials asked Justice Graci to prevent the barge from unloading in Queens until the cargo is monitored for toxic substances and it is determined who will pay for trucking the refuse back to Islip, N.Y., where most of it originated. After Justice Graci's decision giving New York's sanitation experts two days to inspect the garbage, which was loaded aboard March 22, a team of health and sanitation inspectors boarded the vessel.
Mayor Edward I. Koch and health officials, fearing the garbage could contain tropical insects, toxic substances and vermin, ordered that enclosed sanitation trucks be used to haul the cargo back to Islip, where plans call for it to dumped in the town's landfill. Environmental officials gave Islip permission to extend the capacity of its landfills until a new incinerator is completed.
"We are treating the garbage like Germany treated Lenin," Koch said, likening the barge and its contents to the treatment the revolutionary received when he was on his way back to Russia. "He had to be in a sealed train as he went through Germany, Poland, until he got to Finland. This garbage has to get into sealed trucks until it gets to Islip."
After New York state officials gave Islip permission to return its unwanted garbage, officials in Queens and the New York Public Interest Research Group went to court seeking an injunction blocking the transfer to trucks on the grounds that the cargo was "potentially contaminated."
Charter Boat Bonanza
Although the garbage created municipal headaches, it proved to be an unexpected tourist attraction and bonanza for charter boat operators, who did a brisk business taking reporters and the curious out to see the barge basking in sunshine.
When the barge arrived in New York's harbor over the weekend, residents of Brooklyn and Staten Island gathered on shore to peer at the floating pariah.