By Jonathan Sperling
Five Western Queens lawmakers will host a forum Thursday to discuss the potential conversion of Rikers Island into an ‘epicenter’ of renewable energy in the borough once the island’s jails close.
Astoria Councilmember Costa Constantinides announced the proposal during his state of the district address earlier this year. Constantinides will join Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Council Member Daniel Dromm will co-host the forum in Jackson Heights beginning at 7:30 p.m. on June 6.
Constantinides and the Center For Urban Environmental Reform found that devoting 100 acres of Rikers to solar power generation could justify closing nearly a dozen power plants built in the last 20 years. These facilities are heavy polluters, Constantinites said, and are typically located in low-income and minority communities — sometimes next to public housing.
“Closing the jails on Rikers Island is a moral imperative we must see through for the sake of communities long ripped apart by injustice,” said Constantinides, who serves as the City Council’s chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection.
“Closing Rikers presents a unique opportunity to also get power plants out of those same communities, correcting another historic injustice,” he continued. “I look forward to this valuable discussion on how we make this land actually serve our city productively.”
Constantides said that the island could also host a new wastewater treatment plant to allow aging, overburdened facilities in northern Queens, the South Bronx and northern Manhattan to close. The closure would free up land within the communities for more constructive use.
"I am very excited to co-host the Renewable Rikers Island town hall and begin a discussion on using the land in a way that actually benefits all New Yorkers," said AOC said in a statement. "I look forward to hearing how we can begin reversing the historic injustices committed on Rikers, as well as help communities held back for generations by environmental injustice."
The city has pledged to close Rikers by 2026, following the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform’s recommendations that using the remote island for jails had led to brutality, extremely inefficient operational costs and negative health risks for both detainees and correction officers.
Rebecca Bratspies, founding director of CUNY Law School’s CUER, will moderate the panel, which will take place at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, located at 37-06 77th Street near 37th Avenue.