Councilmembers introduce ‘renewable Rikers’ bills

An aerial view of Rikers Island. Photo by the  U.S. Geological Survey  via Wikimedia Commons.

An aerial view of Rikers Island. Photo by the U.S. Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons.

By Victoria Merlino

Astoria Councilmember Costa Constantinides introduced a “renewable Rikers” legislative package on Monday that would begin to transform the infamous island into a literal renewable energy powerhouse.

“For generations, Rikers Island has been a place of despair for many New Yorkers caught up in a fractured criminal justice system,” said Constantinides, chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection. “These bills are a downpayment for a brighter future for this island — one that actually serves New York communities instead of tearing them apart.”

Constantinides’ district includes Rikers Island, which is set to close its jails by 2027 as part of a plan to open a new jail in each borough but Staten Island.

The three-bill package would move control over the island from the New York City Department of Correction to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and have the city measure the island’s renewable energy capacity and how much wastewater could be diverted to the island. Wastewater treatment on the island could potentially eliminate several aging treatment facilities in northern Queens, the South Bronx and Upper Manhattan, which would free up hundreds of acres of public land, according to a statement released by Constantinides’ office.

The bill comes after Constantinides hosted a panel about the renewable Rikers issue on June 6. There, Constantinides, as well as other Queens politicians like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, spoke about “environmental racism,” or how the city’s lower-income neighborhoods and communities that are predominantly made up of people of color, who can be more exposed to pollution because of their proximity to facilities like airports, power plants or wastewater treatment plants.

“It’s time for us to think how we can get climate justice for the same communities that were torn apart by the criminal justice system, emblematic in Rikers Island,” Constantinides said at the panel, as previously reported by the Eagle.

The package, which is co-sponsored by Manhattan Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, will be presented to the City Council on Thursday.