BATTERY PARK, Manhattan (PIX11) — When the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island reopen on Independence Day, passengers who go to visit them could be putting their lives in danger, according to New York’s top cop and senator. The two also detailed their plan on Monday for ensuring the situation becomes safer.
Extensive damage from Superstorm Sandy shut down the world-renowned symbol of freedom last October. Sandy also damaged the security screening center that passengers had to pass through before boarding the Liberty Island ferry. The Interior Department, which oversees Liberty Island, has proposed changing the screening method to allow passengers onto the ferry when the island and statue reopen, and then screen them when they reach Ellis Island. Ellis Island is a half mile east of the Statue of Liberty.
Sen. Charles Schumer called the plan a security failure. “Imagine, God forbid, a big explosion going off on the ferry on the way to the island,” he said.
Schumer joined with NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly to criticize the new Liberty Island security screening plans, and to call for newly selected Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reimplement the on-shore, pre-boarding screening protocol.
Not doing so, said Schumer, is ” sort of ridiculous. It’s like being at the airport and saying, ‘We’re going to screen people when they get off the plane, rather than when they get on the plane.’”
Setting up one, central screening location on Ellis Island would save taxpayer dollars. Prior to Sandy, there were onshore screening stations at both of Liberty Island’s ferry terminals, one in New Jersey and one in Lower Manhattan.
The two security screening stations opened in August 2004, when the Statue of Liberty opened for the first time following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Between their opening and Sandy’s shutting them down last October — eight years — at least 12 terror plots have been foiled in the tri-state area.
Facts like that had Schumer and Kelly saying that reopening the two screening centers was obviously the optimal choice, in spite of some comments they said they’d heard from the Interior Department.
“They say we don’t screen other ferries in New York Harbor,’” said Schumer, impersonating Department of the Interior administrators. “But [those ferries are] not going to the Statue of Liberty. We know what terrorists like to do. They like to strike at symbols.”
Kelly emphasized that paying for two screening locations, rather than one, is worth the cost, and that those costs could be kept low.
“You can pay for this by increasing the charge… to go to Liberty,” the police commissioner said. “You can pay for this by increasing the charge nominally.”
So far, neither Schumer nor Kelly has gotten a written response from Interior Department Secretary Jewell. They each had written a formal letter to the woman whose department oversees the Parks Service, requesting a change in the Liberty Island security screening plan.
However, since Jewell has only been in office for seven weeks, and did not devise the new security plan herself, both Kelly and Schumer are counting on her to reverse the decision of her predecessor, Ken Salazar.
Schumer also said that the Interior Department can afford to maximize security.
“I got the Park Service $320 million… to clean up the statue and Gateway [National Seashore] and Staten Island,” said Schumer. “They’re not hurting. They can afford this little extra cost.”