New York City Bills Would Set The Stage To Replace Rikers Island Jail With A Solar Farm


The Fordham Environmental Law Review was cited in a Huffington Post article about a new series of legislative bills being considered that would replace the Riker’s jail facility with a solar farm and wastewater treatment facility.

The New York City Council is preparing to consider a trio of bills that would set the stage to convert the infamously violent jail complex on Rikers Island into a solar farm and wastewater treatment facility.

The bills mark what Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides, whose district lies just south of the jail complex, described as a bid to not only ensure the 400-acre island remains out of the grasp of luxury developers but also to curtail pollution in working-class neighborhoods and to broaden the scope of the historic Green New Deal legislation he helped pass last month.

If completed, the project would transform Rikers Island into a public utility hub that Constantinides said would make it easier to close the two dozen oil- and gas-burning power plants within city limits. The jail is slated to close by 2027, though that timeline could speed up.

In 1903, the city began landfilling the island with coal ash, according to a report by the New York-based Milrose Consultants. That landfilling eventually quadrupled Rikers’ original 90 acres. While coal ash is known to contain toxic chemicals, the city has never disclosed the full contents of the landfill. That issue resurfaced in 2012 when six cancer-stricken Rikers Island guards and the widow of another filed lawsuits accusing the city of exposing workers to carcinogenic pollution.

The stench of decomposing garbage emanates from the jail complex, particularly on hot days, resulting in “many health problems for persons in custody and staff, particularly those with asthma or heart disease, the elderly, and young people,” according to the Fordham Environmental Law Review. That deteriorating trash primarily emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, that bubbles beneath the surface. When the methane bursts, it often destabilizes the land above, causing damage to aging buildings that then release asbestos.

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