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While the mayor introduced the city to the new head of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection this week, Caswell F. Holloway IV has been a familiar face to those concerned about the future of the Gowanus Canal for several months.
Holloway has been the public face of the Bloomberg Administration’s alternative plan to cleaning the Gowanus Canal, a controversial scheme that occasionally subjected the 36-year-old Harvard graduate to the indelicate ire of local residents stridently supporting the designation of the canal as a Superfund site.
“In my view, and (that of) most people who work on environmental issues in the neighborhood, he’s not the right choice,” said Steven Miller, a local activist who lives a block from the polluted canal. “He doesn’t have any experience on environmental issues beyond opposing the designation of the canal as a Superfund site.”
Holloway, the son of a Pennsylvania residential developer, attended the University of Chicago Law School and before working for the mayor, was an associate at a Midtown law firm and a clerk to Judge Dennis Jacobs, now Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Since 2006, he’s served as chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler.
“If the mayor chose him to be a litigator, they might have made the right choice,” Miller continued. “If they chose him because they were looking for someone with experience in environmental issues and brownfield clean-up, then I can’t see how they could possibly have made the right choice.”
Mayoral spokesperson Marc LaVorgna bristled at the suggestion that Holloway may not be the right man for the job. The new appointee has a “results oriented approach,” that made him a perfect fit to lead the agency, he said. A background in the sciences is hardly a prerequisite, LaVorgna added, noting that environmental policy is set by the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, and not by the commissioner. “The DEP is really an implementation agency, and because of the nature of the large projects, it needs someone who cuts to the chase and gets things done.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted in a statement that since Holloway’s arrival in City Hall,“Cas has worked a couple of desks away from me and I have watched him take on some of the toughest assignments and deliver solutions, from 9/11 health to the Gowanus cleanup to reforming demolitionprocedures in the wake of the tragic 130 Liberty Street fire.”
The city conducted a year-long search to fill the position, which pays $205,000 a year. The DEP is charged with safeguarding the city’s environmental health and natural resources, and manages, maintains and renovates the city’s water supply and its wastewater system. Holloway, a Brooklyn Heights resident, will oversee a $1 billion budget and 6,000 employees.
Dan Hendrick, a spokesperson for the New York League of Conservation Voters, a group that states its mission is to make environmental protection a top priority with elected officials, praised the selection.“He appealed to us because of his focus on being results oriented,” he said. “I think he starts out with a knowledge of the issues on a very local level.” In a statement, the group said it has worked closely with Holloway on some of the city’s most complicated environmental challenges, from the overhaul of the Solid Waste Management Plan to the cleanup of polluted waterways.
Marlene Donnelly, a member of the pro-Superfund group Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus, didn’t get that same impression of Holloway. “When I first met him, I questioned him about the consent order the city was involved with [relating to the canal and the] Clean Water Act, and I didn’t get a clear answer, and he didn’t even seem up to speed involving the legal issues,” she recalled. “He is very new to all these ideas.”
She said that if the DEP isgoing to make a commitment to dealing with sewage overflow — which is responsible for the canal’s trademark stench — it needs someone “with vision” to see this through. “He may very well be a good and decent and bright young man,” Donnelly continued. “But the DEP really needs a leader who will deal with the entrenched bureaucracy.”
LaVorgna said that’s precisely why Holloway was chosen. “He’s someone who understands how to get results out of bureaucracies.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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