ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

May 25, 2019 at 4:30 am

With the jails on Rikers Island set to close by 2026, what should be done with the land? And, who should be the chief beneficiaries of its eventual transformation? In partnership with Public Square Media, we conclude our special “Justice Week” series with a look at the options being debated.

Aired on May 24, 2019. 

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>> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO
THIS SPECIAL EDITION OF
"METROFOCUS."
I'M JACK FORD.
WE'RE CONTINUING OUR JUST
JUSTICE WEEK SERIOUS IN
PARTNERSHIP AND MEDIA AND
TONIGHT WE DISCUSS THE
ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER, A
DESCRIPTION MANY APPLY TO IT TO
RIKERS ISLAND.
THE JAIL IS BUILT ON A LANDFILL.
THE ISLAND WAS EXPANDED FROM 87
ACRES TO OVER 400 ACRES IN THE
EARLY 1900s BY THE CITY.
THEY USED PRISONERS TO DEVELOP
THE LAND WITH GARBAGE AND ASH
INSTEAD OF SOIL.
AS THE YEARS HAVE GONE BY, THE
JAILS HAVE SETTLED IN TO THE
GROUND, CAUSING THEM TO SLOWLY
DETERIORATE.
AND TODAY, THE LANDSCAPE
CONTINUES, WE'RE TOLD, TO LEAK
METHANE GAS.
WITH SUCH A HISTORY, LOCAL
OFFICIALS HAVE PROPOSED A
GREENER FUTURE FOR THE ISLAND.
SO WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE LAND?
SOME SEVEN YEARS OR SO FROM NOW,
WHEN THE JAILS ARE CLOSED?
WELL, HERE WITH SOME INSIGHT IS
COUNCILMAN CONSTANTINES WHERE
THE ISLAND IS LOCATED.
GOOD TO HAVE YOU HER WITH US.
>> THANKS FOR HAVING ME.
>> IT MAY SURPRISE A LOT OF
PEOPLE HOW THE ISLAND GREW, AND
IT CERTAINLY CREATES SOME
PROBLEMS IN DECIDING WHAT CAN BE
DONE WITH THIS ISLAND AND THESE
FACILITIES AFTERWARDS.
>> WE'VE HEARD ONE OF THE
SUGGESTIONS THAT THIS COULD BE A
MARVELOUS, AN AREA, A VENUE, TO
IMPROVE OUR POWER GRID.
AND HOW WOULD THAT HAPPEN, AND
WHAT SORT OF IMPACT WOULD THAT
HAVE ON OTHER COMMUNITIES?
>> I MEAN IT WOULD BE
TRANSFORMATIVE.
WE ACTUALLY WORKED WITH THE
CENTER OF URBAN AND
ENVIRONMENTAL REFORM TO WORK
WITH OPEN DATA AND IF WE JUST
TOOK ONE-FOURTH OF THE ISLAND,
NO MORE THAN A FOURTH, A HUNDRED
ACRE, ENOUGH SOLAR POWER TO
REPLACE EVERY SOLAR PLANT OVER
THE LAST 20 YEARS.
WE WERE PROMISED OVER TIME, 20
YEARS AGO, IT WOULD LAST THREE
YEARS.
AND IT IS ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
COMMUNITIES.
AND IN QUEENS, NEXT TO THE
QUEENSBRIDGE AND THE RAVENSWOOD
HOUSES AND THE ASTORIA HOUSES
AND IT IS WHEN SOMEONE WAS BORN
IN THAT YEAR IS NOW OLD ENOUGH
TO VOTE.
>> GIVE US A BETTER SENSE OF IT.
AND I'M NOT ASKING YOU TO BE A
SCIENTIST, OR AN ENGINEER, BUT
GENERALLY SPEAKING, IF WE TOOK
THOSE 100 ACRES, WHAT WOULD WE
DO WITH THEM?
WHAT WOULD BE PLACED ON THEM
THAT WOULD ALLOW US TO REPLACE
THESE OTHER FACILITIES?
>> SOLAR POWER.
AND BEING THAT THIS IS SO CLOSE
PROXIMITY TO LAGUARDIA AIRPORT,
WHAT WE KNOW FOR CERTAIN, IT IS
NEVER GOING TO BE A LARGE
BUILDING THAT IS GOING TO HANG
OVER THOSE SOLAR PANELS TO BLOCK
OUT THE SUN, BECAUSE RIGHT IN
THE FLIGHT PLAN.
SO WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY HERE
TO USE THIS PART OF THE ISLAND,
THAT'S IN THE RIGHT PLACE, TO
REPLACE THESE ENVIRONMENTAL
JUSTICE POLLUTERS, THESE POWER
PLANTS THAT HAVE BEEN THERE FOR
WAY TOO LONG.
>> AND IT WOULD ACTUALLY ALLOW
US, IF THEN THAT WOULD ACTUALLY
ALLOW US TO CLOSE DOWN THOSE
FACILITIES THAT AS YOU LOCATED
LOCATED RIGHT IN THE MIDST OF
RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITIES IN MANY
CASES?
>> IN 2000, THEY PUT THEM DOWN
WITHOUT ANY I.S. AND SAYS THE
PLANTS ARE THERE FOR VIABLE, AND
TAKE THEM DOWN IN THREE YEARS
AND NEXT TO HOUSING AND
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
NEIGHBORHOODS AND THIS HAS BEEN
ANOTHER INSTANCE OF HOW OUR
GOVERNMENT IS NOT DOING THE
RIGHT THING, AND IT TIME TO TAKE
THEM DOWN AND THIS WILL ALLOW US
TO DO THAT.
>> YOU MENTIONED LAGUARDIA
AIRPORT.
THERE HAS BEEN A SUGGESTION THAT
IT COULD BE AN EXPANSION OF
LAGUARDIA AIRPORT'S FACILITIES.
WHAT WOULD YOU THINK OF THAT?
>> I MEAN IT WOULD JUST, YOU'RE
TAKING, AS YOU TALKED ABOUT IN
YOUR INTRO TODAY, AN ISLAND
THAT'S ASH AND HAS METHANE LEAKS
AND WE'RE GOING TO ALLOW THAT TO
LEAK INTO BOW EERIE BAY AND
FLUSHING BAY, THAT'S NOT A GOOD
IDEA.
IT IS GOING TO, WE'RE FINALLY
GETTING TO A POINT WHERE OUR
WATERS ARE SWIMMABLE AND
FISHABLE AND WE'RE TRYING TO
IMPROVE OUR WATER QUALITY AND
FOR US TO SAY WE'RE GOING TO
DREDGE UP THE BAY AND HAVE THOSE
POLLUTANTS LEAK INTO IT, AND IT
IS JUST NOT A GOOD IDEA.
>> TALKING ABOUT POLLUTANTS AND
LEAKAGE, ONE OF THE OTHER
SUGGESTIONS HAS TO DO WITH AN
OBSERVE OF WASTE MANAGEMENT, AND
HOW THE ISLAND COULD BE UTILIZED
IN SOME FASHION THAT WAY.
HOW MIGHT THAT WORK?
>> THAT'S THE OTHER PART OF
THIS.
I MEAN WE ALL KNOW THE SOCIAL
AND MORAL IMPERATIVE TO CLOSING
RIKERS ISLAND BUT WE CAN DO
BOTH.
WE CAN BOTH DO THE SOLAR AND
HAVE THEM REPLACE THESE, YOU
KNOW, POWER PLANTS THAT HAVE
BEEN THERE FOR DECADES, AND
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, AND ALSO
HAVE A WASTE WATER TREATMENT
PLANT, STATE OF THE ART, 21st
CENTURY THAT REPLACES AGED
INFRASTRUCTURE IN COLLEGE POINT,
NORTHERN ASTORIA, SOUTH BRONX,
AND HUNTS POINT, AND NORTHERN
MANHATTAN.
AND SO WE COULD AGAIN, NOT HAVE
AS MUCH SEWAGE, CSOs, OVERFLOW,
SEWAGE LEAKING INTO THE
WATERWAYS AND HAVE THE SOLAR,
AND MAKE THIS, MAKE --
>> SO IT COULD HANDLE BOTH
ASPECTS OF IT.
>> THE LITMAN COMMISSION SPEAKS
TO THAT.
>> RIGHT.
>> AND THIS IS A CHANCE FOR US
TO REIMAGINE NEW YORK CITY IN
THE 21st CENTURY A 21st CENTURY
WASTE WATER FREMONT FACILITY.
21st CENTURY.
>> AND SET THE COURSE FOR THE
NEXT 100 YEARS.
>> AND FOR SOMEONE LISTENING TO
OUR CONVERSATION AND PERHAPS
LEARNING FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS
ISLAND WAS EXPANDED AND THE
LANDFILL WAS GARBAGE AND ASH AND
HEARING ABOUT THE METHANE GAS
LEAKAGE, SOME WOULD SAY WHY DO
WE DO ANYTHING AND WHY DON'T WE
ABANDON IT AND DO WHAT WE CAN TO
MAYBE MITIGATE WHATEVER THIS
ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE IS AND JUST
WALK AWAY?
WHAT WOULD THE ANSWER BE TO
THAT, DO YOU THINK?
>> I WOULD SAY WE'VE MADE, THE
CITY HAS COMPOUNDED ITS MISTAKES
ON RIKERS ISLAND FOR DECADES
UPON DECADE, EXPANDING IT, THE
CRIMINAL WAY IN WHICH WE'VE
OPERATED RIKERS ISLAND FOR SO
LONG, MASS INCARCERATION, YOU
KNOW, WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY
HERE, WE DON'T HAVE AN
OPPORTUNITY TO GET LAND AND
THINK ABOUT HOW WE REPLACE ALL
THIS INFRASTRUCTURE, THIS IS A
REAL OPPORTUNITY, IF WE MISS
THIS OPPORTUNITY, THEY'RE GOING
TO LEAVE POWER PLANTS AND
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
NEIGHBORHOODS, WE ARE GOING TO
LEAVE WASTE WATER TREATMENT
PLANTS ON OUR WATER FRONTS.
WE CAN CHANGE HOW WE THINK ABOUT
NEW YORK CITY IN THE NEXT 50 TO
100 YEARS IF WE TAKE THIS BOLD
STEP.
AND REMEDIATION, TOO.
THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE EASY.
>> BUT IT WOULD HAVE TO BE
FACTORED INTO IT IN SOME
FASHION, THE NOTION OF
REMEDIATION AND REPAIRING THAT
DAMAGE.
>> ABSOLUTELY.
BUT IT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR
LIVING.
IT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR LONG-TERM
INHABITANTS.
BUT IT IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR US
TO THINK ABOUT HOW WE PUT POWER
GENERATION AND SEWAGE AND OTHER
USES THERE THAT COULD BE
BENEFICIAL TO THE CITY IN THE
LONG RUN.
>> SO YOU WOULDN'T ANTICIPATE
SEEING REAL ESTATE DEVELOPERS,
FOR INSTANCE, SAYING, HEY, WE'LL
GET IN, WE'LL DEVELOP THIS,
MIXED USE DEVELOPMENTS,
WHATEVER, THAT DOESN'T SEEM TO
BE ON THE RADAR SCREEN?
>> I MEAN THIS IS AN ISOLATED
ISLAND THAT THE ONLY WAY ON OR
OFF IS A BRIDGE THAT COME
THROUGH OUR COMMUNITY, AND THE
EMISSIONS FROM THOSE CARS, AND
BUSES, AND EVERYTHING ELSE,
WOULD BE BAD FOR OUR CITY, AND
YOU KNOW, THEY TALK ABOUT MAYBE
A FERRY, BUT REALLY, LOOK AT THE
HIGHEST AND BEST USE.
HIGHEST AND BEST USE, TO BENEFIT
THE MOST PEOPLE, THE ONES THAT
REALLY NEED IT THE MOST, THE
PEOPLE WHO ARE IMPACTED ABOUT
YOU RIKERS ISLAND, BY OUR
COMMUNITIES OF COLOR, AND LOW
INCOME COMMUNITY, THE SAME
COMMUNITIES THESE POWER PLANTS
SIT IN, THE SAME COMMUNITIES
THAT THESE WASTE WATER TREATMENT
PLANTS SIT IN.
IT IS TIME TO GIVE THOSE
COMMUNITIES RELIEF A PLAYGROUND
FOR THE RICH IS NOT SOMETHING
CHI SUPPORT.
>> LAST QUICK QUESTION FOR YOU,
ARE YOU GETTING A SENSE THAT
THERE IS WILLINGNESS ON THE PART
OF VARIOUS LEGISLATORS, CITY
STATE LEGISLATORS TO DO SOME OF
THESE POSITIVE THINGS THAT YOU
MENTIONED, LIKE THE POWER AND
THE WASTE MANAGEMENT TOGETHER.
>> I HEAR A LOT OF, YOU KNOW,
REAL POWER COMES FROM ACTIVISM.
SO ON THE GROUND, SPEAKING WITH
ACTIVISTS ON THE GROUND, WE'RE
GETTING A LOT OF REALLY POSITIVE
FEEDBACK.
COMMUNITIES HAVE BEEN IMPACTED
FOR SO LONG.
YOU KNOW, THIS CONVERSATION,
THEY HAVE LED THIS CONVERSATION,
ON CLOSING RIKERS, FROM THE VERY
BEGINNING AND THE LEGISLATORS
HAVE COME SECOND.
SO WITH WORKING WITH THESE GREAT
ADVOCATES, THAT HAVE BEEN
FIGHTING TO CLOSE RIKERS, WE'RE
SEEING A GROUND SWELL TO CHANGE
THE CONVERSATION, NOT ONLY ABOUT
CLOSING RIKERS, BUT HAVING THE
SIMULTANEOUS CONVERSATION WHAT
RIKERS CAN BE AND WHAT MA MEANS
FOR NEIGHBORHOODS.
>> I THINK IT IS GOING TO BE A
CONTINUING INTERESTING
CONVERSATION AMONGST ALL THE
FACTIONS INVOLVED HERE.
WE APPRECIATE YOU SPENDING SOME
TIME WITH US.
WE WILL PLAN ON GETTING YOU BACK
HERE AND YOU CAN SORT OF UPDATE
THIS AS IT MOVES FORWARD.
>> APPRECIATE BEING HERE.
>> GOOD SEEING YOU.
APPRECIATE IT SO MUCH.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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