The Irony of an Environmental Award for the New York Yankees

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The Yankees are environmentally admirable.

So says the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which gave an award to the team on Tuesday for its stadium's conservation and recycling practices, such as composting 4,000 tons of food waste and donating 125,000 pounds of unused food to homeless and senior centers. 

Well and good. But it reminded us about the team's decision to stress driving over mass transit when preparing to open the current stadium in 2009, and how, environmentally speaking, that didn't work out so well.

Beginning in 2006, the team told the city it needed $237 million in tax-free bonds to build garages with 9,000 parking spaces, because that's the way fans would be getting to games. That meant adding 2,000 paid parking spots to the neighborhood's inventory, even though the new stadium would have fewer seats than the old one.

Neighborhood activists and local politicians objected strenuously to the plan, but to no avail: When the Yankees threatened to leave the Bronx, the City Council approved it and the city's Economic Development Corporation issued the bonds.

After that, disaster.

New York handed over twenty-five acres of public land, including parkland, to Bronx Parking Development, the private company established to build and operate the garages. As the structures rose, the city took several years to replace the parkland, leaving the neighborhood with little green space and forcing local baseball teams to play "home games" on opposing teams' fields.

In the meantime, most Yankee fans avoided the garages, which were charging up to $45 for a spot. Last year, more than three million fans traveled to and from Yankee Stadium to attend the team's 81 home games. The MTA says more than half of them took some form of transit — subway, bus, ferry or Metro-North train — as they've been doing since the stadium opened. On game days, less than half the parking spots are filled, even for a sellout. On other days, the garages are nearly empty. Two of them have been closed.

Bronx Parking Development is now in default. The company owes the city more than $70 million in back taxes and rent, which it will probably never be able to pay. And land that could be used for others purposes, including recreation or revenue generation, is locked up by a bad deal.

DEC spokesman Jomo Miller wouldn't comment on whether the agency considered any of that history when deciding to give one of its eight annual awards for "environmental excellence" to the Yankees. As for the team, spokesman Michael Margolis extolled the stadium's green initiatives. He pointed to a page in the press guide describing efforts to keep 85 percent of the stadium's trash out of landfills through composting and recycling, and to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions "by investing in sustainability projects."

Not mentioned are the massive concrete structures sitting largely idle in the neighborhood near the stadium, vestiges of a decision to privilege driving over transit.