Statue of Liberty Crown to Reopen July 4th
Updated 4:20 p.m. ET
The Statue of Liberty's crown will reopen to the general public on July 4, the first time since before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement this morning on NBC's "Today Show," which had its four main anchors begin the show live from the top of the famed New York landmark.
"Today we're announcing that on the Fourth of July we will open up the crown of the Statue of Liberty to the entire people of America," Salazar told NBC's Matt Lauer. Watch the announcement below:
Salazar said his mandated review of logistical and safety concerns has concluded and that "improvements are going to happen" before the crown reopens in early July. The statue will remain open for the next two years then close for renovations in order to permanently repair security and safety concerns.
Visitors will be able to access the crown in groups of 10 at a time, guided by a National Park Service ranger, according to the Interior Department.
"We'll follow that up with more rehab and ultimately increase the number who can come up here," Salazar said from within the crown.
When asked about potential safety concerns within the tight space, Salazar said "We are worried about it and know that we have to take precautions before people can come up here." He said there will be two layers of security screening before visitors get to the top, but acknowledged his decision is "not going to be totally risk-free." He compared the Statue's tight space and the precautions and safeguards taken to how the National Park Service provides access to the top of the Washington Monument.
Salazar announced a review of the crown's access in January during a visit to Liberty Island. As a senator, he joined other lawmakers in asking the Park Service to determine what if any physical changes would be needed to bring Lady Liberty into compliance with various fire and safety codes. Baltimore-based Hughes Associates was hired to conduct the study.
The Park Service closed the Statue of Liberty and nearby Ellis Island to the public following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The statue's pedestal and lower observation deck was reopened to the public in Aug. 2004.
There has been broad support across the New York City region for reopening the crown and today's announcement is a victory for Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who has long battled with the Park Service to reopen the crown. He even produced a YouTube video about getting to the top of Lady Liberty, in an effort to demonstrate the ease of the process.
"This is one of those instances where the public were way ahead of the bureaucrats," Weiner said during an interview. He later personally invited President Obama to visit the crown with him on July 4.
"The really frustrating thing is that there’s nothing they announced today that they couldn’t have announced in November 2001. It was just bureaucratic pigheadedness that had stopped them from doing this earlier." His office said that annual visits to Liberty Island have dropped since the park closed in September 2001, even though New York City tourism has climbed since then, suggesting visits to Lady Liberty would be higher if the crown was open.
But the Park Service has long expressed concerns about the climb to the crown, especially since the narrow 168-step staircase -- originally only intended for maintenance workers -- needs reinforcement. The upcoming two-year renovations will address those concerns, but Weiner thinks repairs could happen faster.
"I think that they’re still being a little bit too timid, but at least now they’re in a problem-solving mode and they realize that the problem was that Lady Liberty’s crown was closed," he said.
Salazar also announced today that the Interior Department will spend $25 million in economic stimulus funds to repair the Baggage and Dormitory Building at Ellis Island, once used as an immigration processing facility. It will also repair 2,000 feet of the island’s crumbling seawall.
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