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The Garbage Barge

John E. Conover, Jr., P.E.
Environmental Engineer
Long Island, New York


In 1983, there was a state law passed that required the closing/ phasing out of landfills on Long Island, New York. As the law was implemented, landfills started closing and resource recovery plants started being built. (Resource recovery plants are garbage incinerators that use the energy from the burning trash to make electricity) For awhile, there were not enough resource recovery plants and the prices for the disposal of garbage was going up.

In 1987, some enterprising individuals decided to ship some garbage to North Carolina- however when it got there, there was public outcry and concern that the garbage from New York might contain hazardous waste and they did not want it. The barge was turned away. The barge and its tugboat went down the coast looking for another place to take the cargo.

Johnny Carson would talk about the barge every night.    He had a map of the coast and had a line showing the journey of the trash.

At that time, I was a Solid Waste inspecting engineer for the NYSDEC in Region 1 Long Island.  When the barge reached Key West Florida, one Friday afternoon, my boss asked me if I would be willing to fly to Florida to inspect the garbage barge. I said, "well I guess so, if you really need me to".   So boss said I should call the Commissioner and get all the details.

I called Hank, the commissioner and he gave me the scoop.  I should fly to Miami, meet up with the USEPA Tactical Assistance Team, and travel to Key West with them - and take a look at the garbage - look for hazardous stuff in the trash.

So thatís what I did. After I inspected the garbage barge, I wrote a memo to Hank- I told him- "It looks like regular trash."

After Key West, the Barge sailed around some more, and then they got permission for it to come back to Long Island, where the trash went to an incinerator.

I have attached photos and stories from newspapers and magazines and my letter from Hank


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