Is it time to reopen Miss Liberty's crown to the general public? Interior Secretary Ken Salazar thinks so.
Not content to remain in Washington and move into his new digs at the Interior Department, Secretary Salazar headed north to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty National Monument on Friday to meet with local politicians and discuss the great lady.
“The Statue of Liberty is unique among our national parks as a symbol of freedom not only to Americans but also to people around the world,” said Secretary Salazar, who was joined by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Albio Sires (D-NJ). “As a U.S. senator and now as Secretary of the Interior, I believe the crown should be re-opened to the public if at all possible. I am here today to tour the statue and promise to work hard with the National Park Service to explore all feasible alternatives to reopening it.
"We will explore all opportunities to re-open the crown while reducing risk to the public,” said the secretary. “I hope we can find a way. It would proclaim to the world – both figuratively and literally – that the path to the light of liberty is open to all.”
Secretary Salazar also visited Ellis Island. Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Park Service closed both the statue and Ellis Island to visitors. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum and Liberty Island were reopened on December 20, 2001. The National Park Service conducted additional health and safety evaluations of both Liberty Island and the statue. After significant modifications to the pedestal and the addition of screening for visitors, access to the pedestal was re-opened in 2004. The crown, however, has remained closed.
According to the Park Service, the primary reason for the closure has been concern about the health and safety of visitors. The crown is accessible only by a narrow 168-step double-helix spiral staircase. The Park Service, which has responsibility to keep visitors safe and make it possible for them to evacuate in the event of an emergency, deemed the risk too high to re-open the crown to the public.
Last year then-Senator Salazar joined Senator Menendez and other members of Congress in asking the Park Service to conduct a study to determine what physical changes would be required to bring the statue’s interior into compliance with safety and fire codes. If compliance is not possible, the study must determine how the Park Service could minimize the safety risks to visitors, staff and emergency personnel.
A contract was awarded to Hughes Associates, a firm based in Baltimore, to conduct the study. The final report, expected mid-April 2009, will evaluate potential alternatives and cost estimates for accommodating public access in the statue’s interior up to and including the crown.