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 2027 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.”