Liberty’s crown may reopen

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NEW YORK (AP) – Members of Congress will further pressure federal parks officials to reopen the crown of the Statue of Liberty to visitors by holding hearings on the matter, a local politician said Wednesday.

“This hopefully is going to be the last year that Lady Liberty’s crown is closed” for Independence Day, said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., adding that the hearings likely will be held this summer.

The announcement comes a week after the House passed an amendment, proposed by Weiner, giving the National Park Service $1 million to study how to safely reopen the staircase to the statue’s crown.

Last year, after passage of a similar bill, the park service said safety concerns did not permit the crown to be reopened.

Weiner described the planned subcommittee hearings as Congress’ first step toward forcing the agency to reverse that decision.

Visitors to Liberty Island are allowed only as far up as the statue’s pedestal and have been barred from the interior of its body since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The parks agency has claimed the tightly packed 168-step spiral metal staircase is a fire hazard and a terror risk.

Between 2000 and 2005, the number of visitors to the statue dropped by more than one-fifth to 4.2 million a year.

Telephone calls to a National Park Service spokesman on Wednesday, the July Fourth holiday, were not immediately returned.

Weiner said that fully reopening the statue would offer symbolic and economic value. He said the closure “sends entirely the wrong message about our desire to get back on our feet.”

AP-ES-07-04-07 1644EDT

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