First it was the sharp smack delivered by Hurricane Sandy. Then the financial sucker punch of the fiscal cliff, and now, the budget cuts of the sequester. With nearly $59 million worth of damage caused by the storm and no date set for the reopening, the Statue of Liberty, New York harbor's iconic greeter, must be feeling a little tired, poor, and tempest-tossed herself.
Liberty Island, the 12-acre, egg-shaped piece of land the statue sits on, took a direct hit from the October 29 storm. The statue itself was unscathed. But because 75 percent of the island was flooded, the monument's power, water, and communications systems and the island's docks suffered damage. Temporary systems have been put in place, but it's a no-go for tourists until more permanent repairs are finished. (Why New York City is the worst place for a hurricane.)
The money has been appropriated, but the holdup, said National Park Service spokesperson Linda Friar, is the question of how the big restoration projects are to be addressed. "For example, with electricity, do you repair it back to what it was with greater reinforcement, or do you move it higher up and reengineer it? We want to move as quickly as possible, but we also want to spend money appropriately and sustainably." Another major decision is whether security screening will remain in Battery Park, at the tip of lower Manhattan, or be moved to the island itself.
And the timetable for reopening? "We don't have one," Friar said, though hopes are for some level of visitor access by this summer.
The tension between the drive to be nimble ("We want to get the park open as soon as possible," Friar said) and the slow pace of planning and discussions about how to invest public money means no one will even propose a date for the reopening of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
Staffing shortages resulting from budget cuts could delay the contract phase of the repair project, said outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after touring the site on February 26, and monumental woes may continue even after the site reopens. "Instead of having it open to the world to see seven days a week, we may have to close it for two days a week in order to be able to meet the constraints of this current budget," he said.
That's disappointing news for those hoping to get up close and personal with Lady Liberty, which annually draws about four million visitors. And it's frustrating to Brad Hill, president of Evelyn Hill, Inc., which runs the food and gift shop concessions on the island. "I laid off 170 employees," said Hill. "I hope to survive the time we're closed." He sounded weary on the phone. "We lost all our food and retail inventory, and even after insurance payments, we lost a million dollars."
Mike Burke, vice president of Statue Cruises, which runs 13 ferryboats out to Liberty Island, is equally discouraged. He's had to lay off 130 employees—among them dockhands, ticket takers, and salespeople. And because his company offices were flooded, he has moved his base of operations to one of his ferries docked on the New Jersey side of the harbor.
There were other losses. Wind and water destroyed the park-service-owned house where David Luchsinger, superintendent of Statue of Liberty National Monument, lived with his wife. The torch, he told the New York Daily News, could be seen from their bedroom window. "We called it our nightlight." They have moved in with a relative in New Jersey.
Those in need of a Statue of Liberty fix can still take a harbor cruise with a ranger aboard to provide interpretation, or visit the NPS website. "The National Park Service appreciates your patience as repairs are made," it says.