The iron-fisted matriarch of a family empire of sludge barges and tugboats was given five years' probation and sent into retirement for fouling New York Harbor.

Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Iuliani said Monday only Evelyn Berman Frank's age and ill health kept him from sentencing the 75-year-old "Dragon Lady" of the harbor to up to 10 years behind bars. Frank has skin cancer, high blood pressure and other medical problems.The judge also ordered Frank to perform 2,500 hours of community service and cut all ties to her business.

Her family's General Marine Transport Inc. presented a check at Monday's hearing for $500,000, half the fine levied on the company under a plea bargain.

For more than 40 years Frank had controlled a marine empire of more than 45 interlocking companies operating tank cleaners, barges and tugboats.

In July, she pleaded guilty to unlawful abandonment and release of sewage sludge - some of it toxic - in New York Harbor in 1987 and 1988.