Damage from Superstorm Sandy on New York's Liberty Island. Interior… (Richard Drew / Associated…)
NEW YORK -- The Statue of Liberty, whose feet remained dry but whose home was badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy, will reopen July 4 after extensive work to repair the infrastructure on her perch in New York Harbor is completed, officials announced Tuesday.
"What a fitting day for Lady Liberty's return," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. From Washington, he joined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the National Park Service's northeast regional director, Dennis R. Reidenbach, in making the announcement during a conference call with reporters.
The statue was not damaged when Sandy hit the East Coast last October, but Reidenbach said the infrastructure on Liberty Island, which houses Lady Liberty, "was almost a total loss."
Docks for the boats that carry millions of tourists to the Statue of Liberty each year were destroyed. The electrical system for the island was knocked out. So was the elaborate security apparatus through which visitors must pass before they enter the statue, which measures 305 feet and one inch, from the ground to the tip of her flame.
Crews have been working overtime to meet what Reidenbach called a "very aggressive schedule" to have the statue open in time for Independence Day. Money for the repairs is coming from a federal allocation of $60 billion approved for the states affected by Sandy, which killed at least 72 people in the United States. More than 40 people died in New York City.
Of the federal allocation, more than $370 million was set aside for national park repairs, and Reidenbach said $59 million was specifically marked for Liberty Island and for neighboring Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the first stopover for millions of immigrants arriving in the United States in the early 1900s, and its original buildings have been turned into a museum devoted to telling the story of those who made the passage.
The Statue of Liberty is one of the nation's biggest tourist draws. According to the National Park Service, 3.7 million people visited it in 2011, resulting in $174 million in economic activity, including ticket sales and purchases of goods from vendors on Liberty Island.
"When the Statue of Liberty was closed, New York's economy was hurt," said Schumer, noting that hundreds of people employed on the boats, the docks, and as vendors at the statue were out of work. Schumer also said hoteliers lost business because tourists who wanted to visit the statue canceled trips to the city upon learning it was closed.
Despite being loved by millions and emulated by many, Lady Liberty has had a rough go of it in recent years.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she was closed to the public for security reasons. She remained closed until 2004, but it wasn't until July 4, 2009, that visitors were once again allowed to climb the narrow stairs all the way to her crown and gaze out over the harbor.
The crown was closed again in 2011 for upgrades to the security system and reopened in October 2012, just one day before Sandy swept in and force its closure again.
Schumer and Salazar said there's a chance the work needed to reopen the statue could be completed earlier than July 4.
One thing is certain, added Schumer: "You will be able to go to the crown."
There is no timetable for reopening Ellis Island. After Sandy, Reidenbach said, officials had removed more than 1 million artifacts from Ellis Island to prevent them from deteriorating. He said efforts still are under way to repair damage from flooding and wind on the island.
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