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EPA Inspects Wandering Barge Loaded With N.Y. Garbage

May 4, 1987

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) _ Federal environmental agents in breathing gear and disposable suits poked around an exiled barge loaded with 3,000 tons of rotting New York trash Monday, taking samples to determine if the waste is hazardous.

The fly-ridden barge, banned from six states and two foreign countries, was anchored about five miles south of this resort island on the southern tip of Florida for the Environmental Protection Agency inspection.

″EPA has declared war on us,″ said Capt. Duffy St. Pierre on the tug Break of Dawn. First mate David Soto called the protective suits ″ridiculous. It’s just ordinary garbage.″

The EPA planned to check the waste for leakage, toxics, corrosives, combustibility and radioactivity; monitor air quality around the vessels; and run a routine environmental examination of the waste, said spokesman Christopher Militchen, who accompanied the investigators.

Rick Cahill, EPA spokesman in New York City, said test results were expected in two to three days. The barge was expected to remain off Key West until the test results are known or some state accepts the refuse.

Reporters ferried to the barge saw clothing, a vacuum hose, natural fiber, carpet scraps, plastic sheeting, cardboard, magazines, foam rubber and automobile tires in the wire-bound, compacted bales.

″It didn’t smell as bad as our local landfill actually. It had a lot of flies, but we have a lot of flies, too,″ said Katha Sheehan, a reporter for the Key West Citizen.

Key West officials briefly considered burning the trash in their new waste- to-energy plant. But that possibility was scrapped over concerns whether the trash contained hazardous materials.

″The main problem is we don’t know what’s in the stuff,″ said City Manager Joel Koford. ″The owner of the garbage can’t assure us that it doesn’t contain any contaminants.″

Besides, word came down from the governor’s office in Tallahassee that the barge ″is not to land in Florida.″ And state agencies were told ″to stretch their jurisdiction to the breaking point″ to enforce the governor’s order.

Henry G. Williams, commissioner of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, said Sunday that he expected the EPA inspection to find nothing dangerous in the garbage. He said he believed the bulk of the material is construction and demolition debris and paper boxes from shopping malls.

The trash was originally turned away from the landfill at the Long Island community of Islip, because that dump is running out of space and no longer accepts commercial garbage.

Lowell Harrelson of Bay Minette, Ala., contracted to haul it away March 22, expecting to leave it at a North Carolina landfill designed to collect methane gas from decomposing garbage for use as fuel.

But North Carolina officials refused to let him unload the barge. Since then, the barge has been turned away by Missisippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, as well as Mexico and the Central American nation of Belize.

Mexico sent two navy ships to keep watch on the barge, as well as aircraft. The Belize Defense Force and its air wing were ordered to keep it under surveillance.

Harrelson said he is still trying to find a place that will take the load.

Gov. Bob Martinez formed a working group of state agencies to enforce his order that the barge be kept from landing in Florida.

J.M. ″Mac″ Stipanovich, the governor’s chief of staff for external affairs, said the group was formed after it was learned that Key West officials were thinking about taking the trash for their incinerator.

″The working group has been instructed to stretch their jurisdiction to the breaking point in order to keep this thing from landing on our shores,″ Stipanovich said.

The group, made up of officials from the state departments of Environmental Regulation, Natural Resources, Community Affairs, and Health and Rehabilitative Services, was placed in the command of Natural Resources Secretary Don Duden.

The group also planned to travel out to the barge for their own inspection, Stipanovich said.

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