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NYC Council paves way for Renewable Rikers Island


Photo: Creative Commons
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Legislation would close jail and study sustainable replacements


Renewable Rikers

Photo: Creative Commons

Riverkeeper and members of the Renewable Rikers Coalition (a group of formerly incarcerated individuals and affected families, prison reform advocates and environmental justice groups) celebrated Thursday as the New York City Council passed Renewable Rikers legislation. The diverse coalition meets together at the nexus of environmental and reparative justice to welcome the legislation that, when signed by Mayor de Blasio, will close the notoriously cruel prison by 2027 and formally initiate a feasibility study for renewable energy generation and storage capacity on the island.

Riverkeeper is grateful for the leadership of Rikers Island survivors to galvanize public support for the Renewable Rikers legislation. We look forward to continuing to work with the coalition to hold the city to the closure timetable and to complete a robust review of all wastewater, composting, and renewable energy opportunities at the 413-acre site.

While the city could never forget the atrocities committed on Rikers Island, this is an opportunity to turn the page on its past and directly benefit the communities most affected by mass incarceration with cleaner air, cleaner water and high-wage jobs. Specifically, the two Renewable Rikers Bills will have these impacts when signed:

  • Intro 1592-A: By August 31, 2027, control of all portions of Rikers Island will be transferred from the Department of Corrections to Citywide Administrative Service, and the Corrections Department may no longer use the island to house incarcerated persons. The bill also creates a Rikers Island Advisory Committee to make recommendations with respect to the transfers and feasibility studies.
  • Intro 1593-A: The Mayor’s designated agency must undertake an energy feasibility study for renewable energy development and battery storage on the island. The city will incorporate this study into the broader long-term energy plan.

A third crucial bill is still in draft form and has not yet been put to a vote. Riverkeeper and others are strongly urging the passage of Intro 1591-A, a bill that would mandate a feasibility study of wastewater treatment capacity on Rikers Island.

Back in February 2020, Riverkeeper testified to support the three bills first introduced by Council Members Costa Constantinides, Ben Kallos, and Helen Rosenthal and advanced by Council Speaker Corey Johnson. We continue to laud the initiative’s potential to close 16 dirty peaker powerplants and to reduce raw sewage overflows into the city’s waters. Yet the bills, in calling only for studies, do not guarantee a sustainable future land reuse for the island, and much work remains to turn the vision into reality.

2/26/2021 – UPDATE: On February 25, 2021 Mayor de Blasio signed the Renewable Rikers legislation (Intros 1592-A and 1593-A). That same day, the City Council passed separate legislation that will commence a separate feasibility study for wastewater treatment capacity on the island (Intro 1591-B). Thank you to Riverkeeper members who signed the petition in support of this package.

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