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Elected Officials Seek to Transform Rikers Island into Renewable Energy Center, Town Hall Discussion Thursday

Rikers Island (Wikimedia)

June 4, 2019 By Max Murray

A town hall meeting is taking place Thursday to discuss the future of Rikers Island as an area that can be used to generate renewable energy.

Council Member Costa Constantinides is holding the event June 6 where he will discuss his plan of utilizing one-quarter of the 413-acre island to create sustainable energy. The forum will take place at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center, located at 37-06 77th St., from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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.

The future of the island is currently undergoing fierce debate, as the Mayor is calling for the closure of the island’s prison complex by 2026 and replacing it with borough-based jails.

With the jail likely to close, the fate of the island is unknown. Constantinides, who is the Chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, is calling for it to be used to generate green energy that would cover much of the city’s needs.

Constantinides said that he plans on getting the discussion started now, while the future of the island is being debated.

“As the conversation continues about the closure of Rikers Island, we must also discuss the best constructive use for this part of District 22 once the detention center closes. It’s important we have these conservations now instead of in the mid-2020s,” he said in an e-mail.

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.

He is currently working with community leaders to discuss next steps on his Rikers plan.
“We will continue to engage stakeholders about what a Renewable Rikers Island looks like,” Constantinides said in an e-mail.

He said it’s an opportunity to create good, green jobs, while promoting environmental justice and reducing people’s exposure to fossil fuel plants.

Constantinides said that the prison complex on Rikers needs to be closed since it is filled with carcinogens.

“Rikers Island is mostly landfill of ash and garbage, which has caused methane leaks since the 1930s, and often leads to the grounds resettling. Employees have also attributed these leaks to cancer diagnoses, which raises alarms about what people are exposed to here. This dark environmental history, alone, makes the case that no one should ever live on this island.”

Constantinides not only aims to cultivate renewable energy on the island, but he is also toying with the idea of upgrading NYC’s wastewater treatment facilities, which he says are insufficient. This, however, may require greater use of the island, according to Constantinides.

“We want to explore the feasibility of building a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, one that’s resilient against the challenges of climate change, which could justify closing plants in Northern Queens, the South Bronx, and Upper Manhattan.”

The town hall will be co-hosted by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Council Member Daniel Dromm, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz.

“I am very excited to host this town hall alongside amazing partners in government,” Constantinides said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink how we live in and power New York City for the next century.”

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Richard Vagge

Great Plan
Contaminated Island
… not for human use.
Maximize this
… no LGA extension
… no hotels
… no casino
Richie V
The Rabid Activist
of Jackson Hts

Diane Hendry

Queens has 3 power plants on the water. Climate Central predicts our Queens waterfront with severe, regular under water regular occurrences happening where the 3 power plants are. Properly planned Solar would alleviate the public health and security threat if this transition was used at Rikers. It is a perfect use of the land. Remember Sandy? Remember the recent blue explosion? Purpose built homeless housing needs to not be in isolation. Solar is JOBS. before AND after. If they pass the Community Climate Protection act ( which would be shameful if Albany doesn’t) it would be millions of retrofitting jobs for New Yorkers. Queens could lead the way. The facts are clear if the United States doesn’t reduce emissions we are on a trajectory were our grandchildren will be fighting for what limited resources are left after sea level rise, fires etc. I support this move 100 percent.

Dietmar Detering

I am all for de-carbonizing our economy, and I applaud Constantinides for fighting for it. However, solar power will not do the trick unless you are happy with burning fracked gas for electricity when the sun does not shine. Support nuclear power to make your efforts count!
If the island is not suitable for residential use, what about manufacturing? (No, a nuclear power plant won’t be built there, but NJ would work.) There are also very good proposals to expand LGA with a transit center and terminal on Rikers. Much better use than a solar farm. If you really want photovoltaics, install it on roofs and where space is cheap and plentiful (like the deserts).

Peter Rouossos

I think he meant windmills and solar panels to reduce use of con Ed power plants in the area not Tesla car fueling stations for people to go to recharge their cars.

Native New Yorker

No, Riker’s Island would be strictly solar as proximity to LaGuardia would prevent any construction of wind turbines there.

Randall’s Island, however, would be a great place for wind turbines.

Laura Boutwell

This is factually incorrect. There are numerous ways to store renewable energy (batteries, flywheels, hydrogen), and there are numerous redunancies too (ie, a combo of tidal/solar/wind.) This is why we need DESIGN, not simply community input.


I thought we want to expand LaGuardia so our mayor has an easier time flying to the primary hot spots?


So build a “renewable energy center” that everyone will have to drive to. How about making LGA a real airport? Constantinides is probably just looking for a developer to give him some cash for the property.

Native New Yorker

He’s not talking about charging stations. Any electricity produced would be fed into the electrical grid for everyone to use.

Peter L Roussos

According to Politician Constantinides he said that “The prison complex on Rikers needs to be closed since it is filled with carcinogens. This dark environmental history, alone, makes the case that no one should ever live on this island.” So what he’s saying is that its okay to build Waste water Treatment plants on the site in the future so people can go and work their and still be surrounded by carcinogens much like how it is right now at Rikers with inmates and correction officers living and working there. Why wasn’t or isn’t there an environmental review being done to actually see whats going on over there and if its safe for those on site now then why not use the land to build real good and true affordable housing for the homeless that the city has? The numbers keep going up. The non profits and private landlords make millions off of each and every day in this city. Give people that cant fend for themselves a place to truly call home and not continue to line the pockets on a bad aid solution that for now really only benefits the landlords and non profit.
Thats one system Id like to see go away. If everyone had a home to call their own there would be no need for the system they have now that is a revolving door for those caught in the middle.


From my understanding, Constantinides wants to relocate wastewater treatment and energy plants to Rikers Island, away from where people currently live, and then replace the existing spaces with housing, parks, etc. This would create housing as well as remove undesirable industrial plants from residential neighborhoods. The island may not be as good for housing as you’d think given the proimity to LGA (both in terms of noise as well as height restrictions).

That said, you are 100% correct that there should be a proper environmental review and plan to decide what to do next. Developers are salivating at the idea of all this new and open space to build that they will try for a quick land grab. We must be patient and discuss all options rather than rush to decisions based on special interests.

And re: homeless housing, I believe that it will be much better to integrate that within existing communities rather than stick it further away on Rikers where there will not be an existing community and the only way to get there is by 1 bridge.


I’d like to see scientific evidence corroborating the alleged conditions, as well as a feasibility study supporting any suggested proposals to be provided by one of our local Universities, barring any conflict of interest. Not sure I trust the politicians on this panel as, at least, one of them has proven to be ignorant, misleading and financially corrupt.


The best plan would be building a massive modern nuclear complex in central Jersey away from the ocean.


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