A stadium deal most foul
April 19, 2005
It shouldn't surprise anyone that two more lawsuits were filed yesterday against the MTA's sweetheart deal to allow the Jets to build the world's most expensive stadium over Manhattan's West Side railyards.
More are bound to follow; City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who is running for mayor, may soon weigh in.
Most of these suits center on the same theme: The bidding process was a sham and unfairly skewed in favor of the Jets.
Amazingly, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's own internal documents seem to back up those allegations.
Take the issue of possible soil contamination. Anyone would expect a railyard to be contaminated.
Because of that, the MTA's request for proposals required all potential bidders to assume financial liability for any environmental cleanup.
In the case of the Jets, though, the city and state already had agreed to share the team's cost of any cleanup - an offer no other bidder enjoyed.
On March 1, an attorney for rival bidder Cablevision wrote the MTA asking for all information the agency possessed about environmental conditions on the site.
According to Cablevision, the company received no reply.
But MTA records reviewed by the Daily News show the Jets and the agency have been exchanging detailed information on contamination for many months.
In September and October 2004, extensive drilling occurred on the site for soil and water samples.
Lab tests of 175 soil samples collected at that time revealed high levels of semivolatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead, cadmium and mercury.
"Metals such as copper, mercury and zinc were consistently found in exceedance of ... [state cleanup levels] in soil samples from both the fill and underlying native material," one report said.
Another bidder, Adam Victor, president of TransGas Energy, said yesterday he was offered a chance to review some of the MTA's test results before submitting his bid.
But according to Victor, "Those results were inadequate. We offered to pay for our own testing and told the MTA we were prepared to pay for drilling of the site before we could execute liability insurance. They never responded."
So on the issue of environmental contamination alone, three bidders got three different responses from the MTA.
THE JETS worked hand in hand with agency officials from the start and got periodic updates from the agency's engineering staff. They had access to all MTA data.
Cablevision, meanwhile, claims it received virtually no information. TransGas says it received some reports but was denied the chance to conduct its own soil testing.
The Jets' most-favored-nation status also applied to the bids themselves, the latest court challenges assert.
One comes from the Straphangers Campaign - a riders' group - and from Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents transit workers.
"Transit workers and straphangers are not subsidizing skyboxes," said Ed Watt, TWU vice president.
The suit claims that the MTA's March 31 award of the 13-acre site to the Jets for a mere $210 million was "arbitrary and capricious," and that it violated state law by failing to sell a public asset for the best price possible.
The MTA's own appraiser estimated the land at $923 million. Yet the MTA board, which is facing huge deficits in coming years, followed the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki and rejected higher bids from Cablevision and TransGas.
MSG/Cablevision, for example, offered $400 million upfront and $360 million to build a platform over the railyards, while TransGas offered a more convoluted bid of $1 billion.
A fourth suit, filed by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, echoes these complaints.
Bloomberg and the MTA have the nerve to call this rigged process fair and even. No wonder the number of lawsuits keeps mounting.
The Jets' Woody Johnson still insists he must break ground on his dream Manhattan stadium by July 1. Tell it to the judge, Woody.
©Copyright WestSideStadium.org, 2004