"Yanks get Fed" Metro NY 07/19/06
Yanks get Fed nod
New stadium approved by National Parks Service; foes plan lawsuits
by patrick arden / metro new york
JUL 19, 2006
BRONX — The controversial plan for a new Yankee Stadium took a step closer to reality last Friday, when the National Park Service finally gave the go-ahead for the team to use an 11.2-acre portion of Macombs Dam Park that had received federal funds in 1979.
The team is still waiting on IRS approval for its use of $920 million in tax-free financing, but the NPS decision came as a major blow to stadium opponents in the Highbridge community, who had hoped the feds would save them from the trouble of a lawsuit.
Even as the Yankees’ project was approved by the city this spring, the state had yet to complete the necessary paperwork to convert the parkland. Parks receiving government money are protected under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, unless they’re replaced with parks of equal value, “usefulness and location,” and “all practical alternatives” have been exhausted. Last month, the NPS’ Jack Howard told Metro he was still waiting on the state’s proposal. He warned the process could be lengthy. “This is not a rubber stamp,” he said.
A done deal?
But the process ended up being a simple matter. NPS spokesman Phil Sheridan said, “We received the materials on Friday [June] 30.” Fourteen days later it was done.
“It’s definitely a rubber stamp,” said attorney Antonia Bryson of the Urban Environmental Law Center. Yesterday Bryson was “making preparations” to sue the NPS, and she said additional suits against the city and the Yankees are a “definite possibility.”
“It took the Park Service two weeks to make a decision, and one of the weeks was July 4,” she said. “I can’t imagine they were working overtime.”
During the NPS’s public comment period, Geoffrey Croft of NYC Parks Advocates asked for the state’s final site appraisal. “The public has never had a chance to comment on that,” he said.
Neither did the NPS. “We don’t actually see a copy of the appraisal,” said Sheridan. “We rely on the state to look at this thing and say it’s OK.”
Bryson, who helped fight the failed West Side stadium, called the case “one of clearest environmental justice issues I’ve ever seen.”
The neighborhood, she noted, is “virtually 100 percent Latino and African-American, and they depend on these parks.” The community, in fact, was built around the parks. “Now the stadium is jumping across that big divide and going right smack in front of these people’s windows.”
The Yankees did not return calls for comment.
Still, Bryson says, “being right is often not enough.” She worries the city’s promise to build parks in three years could be easily sidetracked.
“It’s hard to make people realize what an injustice this is,” she said. “Most people see it as a NIMBY fight, but this is one of the worst things you could have in your backyard.”