Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alissa Flockerzi.
The Coast Guard bid fair winds and following seas this week to Gary Kassof following a distinguished 40-year career in the Coast Guard. As the bridge management specialist in the 1st Coast Guard District, Kassof is considered to be one of the Coast Guard’s first environmental pioneers.
After receiving his master’s degree in 1974, Kassof was hired for a government job at a time when the environmental movement was just starting in the early 70s. Laws were being passed to protect the environment, creating numerous positions within environmental agencies. In 1974, he began his lifelong career working alongside the Coast Guard to pave the way and create environmental programs for various agencies.
Kassof’s current duties consist of being the lead and senior bridge management specialist for the 1st Coast Guard District, directly supervising eight and overseeing program efforts across five sectors, eight states and the Atlantic maritime border between the United States and Canada. He directs, supervises and coordinates all aspects of the bridge program, which includes permits, drawbridge regulations, casualties, navigability determinations, construction oversight, Truman-Hobbs applicability, civil penalty processing and National Environmental Policy Act analysis.
“Environmental protection is paramount. It’s equal to protecting navigation and we always had that balance where, as a regulatory agency, we had to take a proposal from a highway department that wanted to build a bridge and we had to see what it would do to navigation as well as the impact on environment,” said Kassof. “Balancing those aspects and coming up with a solution that everybody could live with was a challenge but that was what it took to accomplish things throughout my career.”
Kassof’s responsibilities are both national and international in scope. His decisions impact the nation’s intermodal transportation system from northern New Jersey and southern New York throughout New England to the U.S. border with Canada, including the federal highway system, state and local transportation systems and transportation corridors connecting the U.S. with Canada. His responsibilities involved every facet of environmental laws and regulations as they relate to bridges and pipelines over navigable waterways throughout the Northeast, which contains some of the nation’s oldest infrastructure.
Kassof’s decisions also have an impact on the regional economy through the connections made to islands and remote areas for the purpose of commercial and residential development, routes or pipelines for the transportation of energy and transportation of commerce and people to and from Canada.
Throughout his career, Kassof was personally responsible for issuing more than 750 bridge regulations and drawbridge deviations, conducting more than 1,000 jurisdictional determinations, approving more than 1,000 permits and overseeing countless construction reviews. A mere quantitative listing of his work accomplishments does not come close to capturing the value he added to the process; each and every project came with the time-consuming but necessary public meetings, equally vocal champions and opponents, significant political attention, enormous commitments of funds and pressure to finish as quickly as possible. Kassof managed all of this superbly and beyond ethical reproach, a focus that served the Coast Guard exceedingly well.
It is difficult to capture the magnitude of Kassof’s impact on the Coast Guard’s bridge program and bridge projects throughout over the past four decades. His selfless dedication to public service and the Coast Guard served as a model for generations of co-workers and colleagues within and external to the service.
“It’s been a long career, a long 40 years. It’s a testament to my ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ that I never went around looking for other jobs,” said Kassof. “Every day was a new challenge. There was never a boring day.”
Kassof’s work ethic and professionalism brought tremendous respect and esteem to the bridge program. As a civil servant, he clearly understood and embraced the concept of public trust. He always strove to ensure the public was aware of government actions and that they were involved in the decision-making process. He did this while protecting navigation and the environment and seeking resolution to inherent conflicts among the waterways users. With the completion of 40 years of dedicated service to the nation, he leaves behind an unparalleled legacy of bridge administration and operational expertise, and an unwavering commitment to the Coast Guard, its workforce, the northeast maritime community and the public.
For his exemplary service, Kassof was honored with the Commandant’s Distinguished Career Service Award.