Jan. 30, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Council Member Costa Constantinides’ package of bills–known as the Renewable Rikers Act–went before the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee yesterday.
The Renewable Rikers Act, comprised of three separate bills introduced in June, would begin the process of creating renewable energy infrastructure and a wastewater treatment facility on Rikers Island.
One of the three bills would transfer control of the island to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from the Department of Correction and require two feasibility studies on the island.
Another would require the DEP to assess whether a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility could be built on the land and if it could replace older facilities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in Western Queens and the South Bronx.
A third would require the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to study the amount of renewable energy that can be generated on the Island and how much of that energy can be stored through large-scale batteries on the Island.
In October, the City Council voted to close the jail complex on the island by 2026 and build four borough-based jails.
While, the Council has begun a land use review process to ensure the island never houses another jail, what will happen to the land has yet to be determined.
At the hearing Wednesday, Constantinides, who is chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, said that Renewable Rikers Act could help historically marginalized black and brown communities where wastewater treatment facilities and power plants pollute their neighborhoods.
“I was moved to hear stories from South Bronx, western Queens, and Brooklyn residents who’ve lived in the shadow of power plants and wastewater treatment plants for too long, while being pushed to the margins even further by our criminal justice system,” Constantinides said in a statement. “They made it clear this is perhaps the best path moving forward to get real restorative justice.”
The mayor will soon sign an executive order to gather stakeholders and begin a public input process to determine what will become of Rikers Island — including the possibility of renaming the land, Daniel Zarrilli, the mayor’s chief climate police advisor, said at the hearing.
Zarrilli, who testified before the committee, said the mayor’s office is “very much in support” of two bills that call for feasibility studies, but said that the control of the island should be transferred to the appropriate city agency, only after the public input process is completed and a decision of the island’s use is made.
“These bills could represent the dawn of a new era for millions of New Yorkers and also a blueprint on how a green and sustainable city could operate in the twenty-first century,” Constantinides said at the hearing.