June 10, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
Council Member Costa Constantinides announced today that he will be introducing a three-bill legislative package later this week that aims to transform Rikers Island into a green energy hub.
The set of bills, titled the Renewable Rikers Act, co-sponsored by Manhattan Council Member Helen Rosenthal, will be introduced at Thursday’s Council meeting. The bills, if passed, would begin the process of establishing renewable energy sources on Rikers Island, including solar panels.
“For generations, Rikers Island has been a place of despair for many New Yorkers caught up in a fractured criminal justice system,” Constantinides said. “These bills are a downpayment for a brighter future for this island — one that actually serves New York communities instead of tearing them apart.”
Elected officials, particularly Mayor Bill de Blasio, have been calling for the closure of the notorious jail by 2027 in favor of a borough-based jail system. While the closure of the complex seems likely, a final decision has not yet been made.
Rikers Island, which sits in the East River off LaGuardia Airport, is part of Council District 22, which is represented by Constantinides and covers Astoria and parts of Woodside, Jackson Heights, and East Elmhurst.
Constantinides’ first bill would transfer control of the island from the New York City Department of Correction to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection as a means to ensure the island is never again used as a jail.
His second bill would require the City to determine how much renewable energy could be generated on the island. He said that the energy generated on island would help the City meet its pledge to reach a 1,000 megawatt solar capacity by 2030—enough to power 250,000 homes, Constantinides said.
The third bill would require the city to determine how much wastewater could be diverted to the island. A wastewater treatment center on the island could potentially lead to the closure of facilities in northern Queens, the south Bronx and Upper Manhattan.
The legislation would reduce the environmental burden on many low-income and minority communities, Constantinides said. The oil- and gas-burning power plants, which are a blight on minority areas, would be more likely to close.
Constantinides said last week that the island is unsuitable for housing. He said that it is mostly landfill of ash and garbage. There have been methane leaks since the 1930s which have been linked to cancer, he said.
“This legislation is a breath of fresh air,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas. “Rikers Island is known for its destructive impact on the lives of minority communities, but we have an opportunity to change that legacy. With the Renewable Rikers Act, we can mitigate the pollution in our working class neighborhoods and transform Rikers Island into a green hub. I am proud to support this innovative legislation on the state level.”
Constantinides has spent much of his time in office dedicated to environmental policy. He was instrumental in the passage of the city’s Green New Deal earlier this year that will require the reduction of carbon emissions from many large buildings.
The announcement of the legislation comes just days after Constantinides held a town hall meeting at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center to discuss converting at least one-quarter of the 413-acre island into a source of renewable energy.
The event, held Thursday, was attended by about 250 residents, according to reports. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several local elected officials all spoke in favor of the plan.
Ocasio-Cortez spoke to attendees outside the packed center.
I’m thrilled so many community members came to our #RenewableRikers town hall, but sadly some folks couldn’t make it in.
So we held an impromptu session on the street.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 7, 2019