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By TERESE LOEB KREUZER | As a special 7:30 a.m. ferry from Battery Park approached Liberty Island on July 4 carrying concession workers and press, the excitement was palpable. It was one thing to see the Statue of Liberty from a distance. Now, she would again be visible up close and her pedestal museum and crown would be open again.
When the employees of the food and audio tour concessions debarked on the island, they greeted those already there with hugs and high fives. It had been eight months since Superstorm Sandy had swept through on Oct. 29, 2012, demolishing almost everything on the island except the statue itself, which stands well above sea level. For eight months, some people had had no jobs. Now they were going back to work again.
The reopening ceremonies didn’t start until 10:30 a.m. There was time to look around — time to notice the many trees still with bare branches because of the storm and the construction equipment that will still be needed until late fall.
Enough renovation had been completed to reopen the island but there is still much to be done. Paul Natoli, principal, president and C.E.O. of the Natoli Construction company explained that his firm had been hired to install new lawns and new irrigation systems for the lawns.
“We restored the electrical power to the island, domestic water service to the island, the storm and sanitary systems, the fuel systems – all the main arteries that the infrastructure is compromised of were basically wiped out and we had to get all of those systems up and running so that the public could come back,” he said.
They started this work in early April. “It was a scramble to get the work done by July 4,” Natoli said. “We worked Saturdays and Sundays and around the clock for the most part.”
During the reopening ceremonies, officials of the National Park Service and several politicians spoke with gratitude about the tremendous effort that it had taken to get Liberty Island open again.
“The statue is one of the most popular destinations for the 8.2 million people who come to our city every year,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It averages something like 3.8 million visitors annually.”
He said that around 2,200 New Yorkers have jobs supported by visitors to Liberty Island.
David Luchsinger, superintendent of Liberty and Ellis Islands, estimated that around 20,000 people visited on opening day. Accompanied by Sally Jewell, secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Interior, he walked along a line in which some of the visitors were waiting to enter the pedestal and crown, shaking hands. He called their response “heartwarming.”
The heat and humidity were intense on opening day, and there were long lines for the ferries to get to and from Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said that new, temporary screening facilities have been set up in both places to allow visitors to pass through them more quickly.
He also said that Ellis Island will not be able to reopen any time soon. All of the utility and security systems on Ellis Island were demolished by the storm and the collection had to be moved to Maryland for safekeeping.
But on July 4, concerns about the future were overshadowed by joy. Several speakers mentioned the symbolism of the statue.
“Of all the damage we suffered in Sandy, and believe me I saw some incredible damage in my home state of New Jersey from Hoboken all the way to the Jersey shore, none was a more direct hit to what we stand for as a people and a nation than what was done here,” said New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez.
Jewell said that the statue had been “a beacon of hope for 127 years.” She also referenced the fact that it was the 237th birthday of the United States.
For many reasons, it was a day to celebrate.