BY KAITLYN MEADE | Lady Liberty will reopen by Independence Day, in time to catch the second half of summertime traffic. In a teleconference on March 19, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said that statue was on track to open by July 4 of this year, bringing back much-needed jobs and tourism to Lower Manhattan.
The iconic statue has been closed since Superstorm Sandy roared into the harbor on Oct. 29, 2012.
“Hurricane Sandy inflicted major damage on facilities that support the Statue of Liberty — destroying the docks, crippling the energy infrastructure on Ellis Island and wiping out the security screening system — but we are fully committed to reopening this crown jewel as soon as it’s safe for visitors and not a second later,” said Salazar.
Senator Charles Schumer, who was on the press call, was excited about the impact the reopening would have on the city’s economy.
“Being open for the summer tourism season isn’t just important symbolically, it’s a boon to the city’s economy and businesses, as the statue attracts millions of tourists from all over the world to our shores,” he said.
A report released last month by the National Park Service showed that in 2011, 3.7 million people visited the park, bringing in $174 million and providing over 2,000 jobs.
“I heard from all over New York that this was hurting our tourist industry,” said Schumer, not to mention the “400 people whose lives were somewhat in limbo.”
Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, said in a statement: “One of Lower Manhattan’s premiere tourist destinations, the reopening of Lady Liberty this summer is terrific news for the local tourism and hospitality industry and for the millions of annual tourists visiting from near and far.”
Salazar said that crews have been working around the clock to push for an aggressive comeback, and that the rebuilding process was making the island not only able to reopen but better prepared to weather future storms — good news since the grim press conference at the end of February, when the sequester was weighing heavily on the Parks Department and no timeline could be established.
Asked if it was possible to open sooner, he said it was a possibility but that the number one priority was making sure visitors were safe and secure, a concern stemming from damage to the security screening tent in Battery Park. An announcement on the topic will be made next week by the National Parks Service.
The tent has never been popular Downtown and the National Park Service proposed moving security screening to Ellis Island, but the N.Y.P.D. contended that screening should take place prior to boarding the ferry. Salazar said that the discussions with the N.Y.P.D. were both “positive and productive.”
Along with security screening, there is still damage to the utilities and infrastructure that need repair. The statue, 154 feet off the ground, was mostly unscathed by the storm.
Ellis Island, on the other hand, sustained heavy damage and its reopening date is uncertain. Over one-million artifacts were moved to the National Park Service Museum Resources Center in Maryland for preservation in January.
In the meantime, Liberty Island is being updated to withstand future storms, said Dennis Reidenbach, the National Park Service’s Northeast Regional Director, including a permanent, storm-resistant dock with $59 million allocated for both islands’ repairs.
Lady Liberty’s reinstatement will be a crown jewel indeed, as the statue will be open all the way to the crown.
The announcement seemed like a special moment for Salazar, who is about to step down as secretary. In 2009, three days after he took over the department, he announced that the crown would reopen that July 4th — the first time since the 9/11 attack.