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Queens Chronicle

Advocates envision a greener Rikers

Solar farm, wastewater treatment among ideas if the jail is closed

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Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:15 pm, Thu Jun 20, 2019.

Environmental advocates see the possibility of a green and productive future for Rikers Island.

Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) and Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) on Monday unveiled the Renewable Rikers Act, a series of three bills that would set up a large solar farm and examine the possibility of a wastewater treatment plant.

Rikers is slated to close as a jail sometime between now and 2027, depending on the elected official one is speaking with, and be replaced by four community-based jails, including one in Kew Gardens.

Constantinides, chairman of the Committee on Environmental Protection, held a press conference on Monday, and sponsored a community meeting on the subject on June 6 in Jackson Heights with state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst). Among the ideas discussed was taking 100 acres of the 413-acre island and creating a solar farm.

“For generations, Rikers Island has been a place of despair for many New Yorkers caught up in a fractured criminal justice system,” Constantinides said in a quote from Monday’s press conference released by his office. “These bills are a downpayment for a brighter future for this island — one that actually serves New York communities instead of tearing them apart. As we made the bold decision to close these jails, we must be as courageous in making this type of investment in a Renewable Rikers.”

The bills would transfer control of the island from the City Department of Correction to the Department of Environmental Protection; require the city to determine the renewable capacity of the island; and assess how much of the city’s wastewater can be diverted there, potentially allowing for the closure of older plants elsewhere in the city.

A spokesman for Constantinides said the bills were scheduled for introduction today, Thursday, June 13.

“Council Member Constantinides’ legislation will create significant solar energy capacity, and help pave the way for the closure of local fossil fuel-based power plants and wastewater treatment facilities – a victory for our communities and the battle against climate change,” Rosenthal said in the statement.

The June 6 forum, titled “A Renewable Rikers Island,” took place before an overflow crowd at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights. A large crowd had to stay outside as the room quickly filled to capacity.

The main focus of the evening was a panel with representatives of environmental and civic organizations who discussed the criminal justice, social justice and environmental justice aspects that would be served by closing Rikers and creating some sort of environmental hub.

All the speakers were in agreement with the 100-acre solar farm, which Constantinides said could allow the closure of at least some old natural gas-fired plants.

Speakers, aside from Constantinides and Rosenthal, included U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens), Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Corona).

“People don’t see this as an environmental justice issue, but it is,” Cruz said.

All speakers said they do not want the island to be taken over by the luxury real estate industry, and that planning ahead as long in advance as possible of the jail’s closure is important.

“We get to decide our vision of what we want, and the world we want to have,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

She and others also said that the city’s real estate interests would move quickly to fill any void that might occur if the city and residents to not prepare thoroughly.

Members of the panel included Rachel Spector, director of the Environmental Justice Program of New York Lawyers for Public Interest; Maritza Silva-Farrell of Align; Marco Barrios of Just Leadership USA and a former Rikers inmate; and Cecil Corbin-Mark of WE-ACT for Environmental Justice.

The moderator was professor Rebecca Bratspies of CUNY School of Law in Long Island City. Bratspies teaches environmental law and is the founding director of the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform.

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  • BroadwayLION posted at 10:51 am on Fri, Jun 14, 2019.

    BroadwayLION Posts: 5

    One realizes that Riker's Island is the most desirable real estate south of Montreal, however the rape of this land by developer's interests is a scandal. There are seven different jails on Riker's Island. Where will you put them. Who wants a jail that big in their neighborhood? Yes, go ahead and put solar collectors on the roofs of those buildings. They likely will not generate enough power to operate the jails, but that is a different story.. Sewage treatment? People would rather have a treatment plant next door to them than another jail.. In this case, the status quo should remain the status quo. Now ask me about the Astoria Subway. THAT I have ideas about. : ) Elias

  • livelyreggie posted at 8:14 am on Fri, Jun 14, 2019.

    livelyreggie Posts: 58

    You don’t need a crystal ball to predict what’s going to happen here. This is not about a fractured prison system or improving community relations, or anything of the sort. This is simply about the mayor and his cronies getting a huge monetary pay back. This is more of the nonsensical climate change baloney that we are seeing over and over again from the likes of AOC. DeBlasio believes he is some kind of king rather than an individual who has the duty to govern based upon the will of the people of the city of New York. Not the councilman who unilaterally seem to make decisions based upon their own financial gain, not what the constituents want. They want to close down the fossil fuel based Plants on Rikers island, And replace them with what? Solar panels? The people here that are getting the graft our solar companies counsel people the mayor and the people getting the shaft or the city residence. Graft and shift, those are the two words we need to remember. The mayor is a despicable example of Communism at its finest. If they really cared about the people in the city of New York they would not be putting presence within the boroughs. We have enough mentally ill and homeless wandering the streets as it is. We don’t need more Degradation to our communities. He’s done a good job at that already.