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Head of U.S. Seaway steps down

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The embattled head of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., Collister W. “Terry” Johnson Jr., appears to have finally caved in to political pressure and has stepped down with five months left on his seven-year term.

Seaway Deputy Administrator Craig H. Middlebrook will fill in as acting administrator until Mr. Johnson’s successor is named, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Mr. Johnson’s leave was announced abruptly but was not unexpected.

In February, he said that the Obama administration had been pressuring him to resign and that he was not sure how long he would be in the job.

He was appointed in October 2006 by George W. Bush — his college roommate at Yale — and was the last remaining appointee of President Bush at the DOT.

Mr. Johnson said in an interview with Great Lakes-Seaway News, a daily online journal of the waterway, in December that he has been facing “ongoing, petty harassment” on the job — such as finding hisoffice door locked — for nearly a year since Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari initially tried to force him to quit.

DOT spokeswoman Sasha Johnson declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his departure, saying only that it is the department’s policy not to discuss personnel matters.

While she confirmed Wednesday that Mr. Middlebrook became acting administrator this week, she did not disclose when or even whether Mr. Johnson had submitted a letter of resignation.

When asked about the timeline for finding Mr. Johnson’s replacement, she said simply that the department is “just beginning the process of searching for a new administrator.”

His predecessor, Albert S. Jacquez, was appointed by President Bill Clinton and was allowed to complete a full term.

Word of Mr. Johnson’s nomination came just shy of two months of Mr. Jacquez’s last day, and he was named the Seaway’s ninth administrator upon Senate confirmation a month later.

Jennifer J. Caddick, executive director of Save the River, Clayton, said that although her group and Mr. Johnson have “never seen eye-to-eye” on issues such as winter navigation or rules on ballast water treatment, he “never turned away a phone call” and was always “very clear and specific” about his role at the Seaway.

“He was always clear about his position. I remember him saying to us once: ‘My job is to look out for the shipping industry, and your job is to look out for the environment,’” Ms. Caddick said. “At least he was honest with us.”

Unlike many of his predecessors, the New York native also had several years of ocean shipping experience already under his belt.

Mr. Johnson had once headed the largest economic development agency in Virginia as chairman from 1986 to 1994 of the Virginia Port Authority, where he oversaw the authority’s acquisition and merger of the ports of Norfolk, Newport News and Suffolk.

He also was president and chief executive officer of FastShip Atlantic, a company that develops technology for rapid transoceanic freight service.

His temporary successor, Mr. Middlebrook, has been a career employee of the U.S. Seaway since 1995, and described by environmental advocates as being “familiar with the river and the issues.”

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