Statue of Liberty to reopen by Independence Day

Tuesday - 3/19/2013, 4:22pm EDT

By DEEPTI HAJELA
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - The Statue of Liberty, closed since Superstorm Sandy damaged the island where it stands, will reopen to the public in time for Independence Day, officials said Tuesday.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the timeline for the reopening along with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

"Hurricane Sandy inflicted major damage on facilities that support the Statue of Liberty," Salazar said. "Based on the tremendous progress we have made, Lady Liberty will be open to the public in time for the July 4th celebration."

The statue itself was spared in the late October storm, but its surrounding island was badly damaged. Railings broke, paving stones were torn up and buildings were flooded. The storm also destroyed boilers, sewage pumps and electrical systems on the island.

As much as three-fourths of Liberty Island's 12 acres was flooded, officials estimated, with water reaching as high as 8 feet.

An exact opening date wasn't set. Before the statue can reopen, a security screening process for visitors must be worked out with the New York Police Department. Salazar said an announcement was expected in the next week or so.

About 3.7 million people visited the statue in 2011, making it the 19th most visited national park.

Schumer emphasized how important it was to the New York economy to have the statue open.

"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.

Sandy came one day after the Statue of Liberty's 126th birthday and the reopening of the crown, which had been closed for a year for a $30 million upgrade to fire alarms, sprinkler systems and exit routes.

The storm also inflicted major damage on nearby Ellis Island. More than 1 million historical artifacts and documents were moved because of the impossibility of maintaining the climate-controlled environment necessary to preserve them.

A reopening date for Ellis Island hasn't been set, National Park Service Northeast Region Director Dennis Reidenbach said.


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)