NYC Council passes laws that would turn Rikers Island into a clean energy hub

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Shant Shahrigian and Chelsia Rose Marcius, New York Daily News
·2 min read
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City Council members want a green new deal for Rikers Island.

They passed bills Thursday that takes a first step toward transforming Rikers into a clean energy hub — but the bills’ lead lawmaker said the measures won’t guarantee how the land will be used.

The bills require an environmental feasibility study of the roughly 430-acre island — which is mostly old landfill — and promise to transfer control of Rikers and its jails from the Correction Department to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Queens) said Thursday during an Environmental Protection Committee hearing.

Environmentalists hope the study will provide the basis for turning Rikers into a green-energy paradise with solar panels and battery storage that would help wean the Big Apple off fossil fuels.

Yet exactly how Rikers will be used remains to be seen.

“These bills in no way guarantee anything,” Constantinides said after Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn) raised questions regarding future use of the island, including the possibility of building public housing on the land.

“Bringing [in] any housing ... being that it’s built on ash and garbage and there are methane leaks, I think that would be very complicated,” Constantinides said, referring to longstanding concerns over the land’s toxicity.

“These bills guarantee that we get the the Department of Correction off of the island [and] have a study for sustainability and resiliency purposes, study our energy plan,” he said.

The new laws add detail to city policy on what to do with Rikers Island.

The City Council approved a plan in October 2019 to build four new borough-based jails and close Rikers’ lockups by 2026. That deadline has since been pushed back to Aug. 31, 2027, due to coronavirus-driven budget constraints.

The bill transferring control of Rikers to Citywide Administrative Services passed 37-7, with two abstentions, and the bill on the feasibility study passed 42-2, with two Council members taking a pass.

Also Thursday, the Council approved 44-1 a bill barring people with corruption convictions from holding office. Councilman Councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) abstained from the vote.

A bill aimed at addressing health disparities for women and people of color by creating “an advisory board for gender and racial equity in hospitals” passed 43-3.