Tar Heels Say No to the Mobro Garbage Barge

State and federal environmental officials examine the garbage aboard the Mobro 4000. Image from Vice.

On April 1, 1987, WRAL-TV in Raleigh broke the “Gar-barge” story.

The story began a year earlier when Alabama businessman Lowell Harrelson proposed to alleviate overcrowding in a Long Island landfill by sending garbage to landfills across the South via barges. A parcel in Jones County was selected as the site for the first transfer of waste, and more than 3,000 tons of garbage set sail aboard the Mobro 4000 in late March 1987 bound for the port in Morehead City.

After the story broke, local residents quickly became incensed at the prospect of New York garbage being dumped in pristine coastal North Carolina. A state environmental official spotted a bedpan in the trash, leading the load to be classified as medical waste.

The state Department of Human Resources received an injunction blocking Harrelson from offloading the garbage, and soon the barge was headed to Louisiana. After being turned away there and by five other states and three counties, the town of Islip, which had originally sent most of the garbage, agreed to take the load.

The Mobro’s 6,000-mile, five-month odyssey captured the attention of the nation. Dan Rather called the shipment:

the most watched load of garbage in the memory of man.

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