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Liberty Denied

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On December 20, Interior Secretary Gale Norton stood on Liberty Island and declared: "Reopening these islands" -- Liberty and Ellis -- "demonstrates to the world that even though the September 11th attacks affected us, they cannot -- and they will not -- shut us down." But four months later, the Statue of Liberty is still shut down -- to the disappointment of tired, huddled tourists everywhere. People can ferry out to Liberty Island, but they can't climb the 354 steps to Lady Liberty's crown.

And some at the National Park Service, which oversees the statue, blame the delay on their bosses at the Interior Department. "In a prior life, the Park Service designed a security system and installed it," complains Edie Shean-Hammond, a Park Service spokeswoman. "In this life, the service designs a system, and then it's reviewed and reviewed and reviewed -- and every time there are changes."

Part one of the security plan was put into place for the December reopening of Liberty Island: Ferries are swept for bombs, and passengers must pass through metal detectors. The next part -- figuring out how best to evacuate the statue's stairway -- is more complicated: "In a narrow, confined space, it takes a lot of doing," says David Barna, chief of public affairs for the Park Service, who took pains to defuse the frustration expressed by others at his organization. (Calls to the Interior Department were referred to Barna.)

Norton -- and President Bush -- have final say on when to reopen the statue. And tourism officials are starting to get antsy: "This is by far one of the most recognizable attractions in the world -- it's really this beacon of hope," says Cristyne Nicholas, head of NYC and Company, the city's tourist bureau. And ground zero, she notes, isn't exactly the sort of attraction the city wants to promote. "We appreciate the security concerns," she adds, looking across her desk at a photo of the old copper lady. "But we certainly hope the statue is opened sooner rather than later."


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