Salazar II: On Freeing Ms. Liberty’s Crown

“The crown of the Statue of Liberty, since Sept. 11, has been held in a bureaucratic shackle,” complained Sen. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.). This morning, he asked Colorado’s Sen. Ken Salazar — the incoming Interior Secretary — if he could “let us free the crown.”

Narrow stairs lead up Lady Liberty and into her crown. Those in the crown don’t meet building codes ensuring that tourists can quickly make it out during emergencies. Presumably, these stairs never met code. But they became an issue after the terrorist attacks in 2001. While the Statue’s base, pedestal, and observation deck reopened to the public in August 2004, the crown and a higher observation deck that it houses remain shuttered.

Some members of Congress have been pleading with Interior’s National Park Service to reopen the crown. Among them, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D.-N.Y.). “Since her crown was closed to the public, the Statue has seen a 40.8 percent drop in visitors,” his office notes — or some 2.24 million fewer tourists than would have been expected. Fewer visitors means less tourism money spent in the metro area.

Ellis Island, virtually next door to the statue, also is not up to code. A public/private partnership has assembled itself with the goal of financing restoration of facilities on the island — once the primary portal to immigrants. However, Menendez noted, interest in refurbishing Ellis Island “has languished with the Park Service.” So Menendez petitioned Salazar to help jump start the island’s renewal.

Acknowledging that both the island and statue hold great symbolism for the American spirit, Salazar promised to make restoration of public access to both “a priority.” I somehow doubt, however, that either will actually jump to the top of the incoming Interior Secretary’s to-do list.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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