Volume 20, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 23 - March 1, 2011
City looking at new safety regs for Lady Liberty visitors
BY Aline Reynolds
The implementation of new security procedures for Statue of Liberty visitors has been delayed, according to officials.
The new plan, proposed by the U.S. Department of Interior, would transfer visitor-screening services from Battery Park to the north end of Ellis Island, which is owned and operated by the National Park Service. Federal and municipal authorities, however, have expressed reservations about the plan, saying they’d like to take a closer look at it before giving it their stamp of approval.
“We’ve asked to be given the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the plan before it is implemented,” said Paul Browne, deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department.
The N.Y.P.D. is working with federal officials on the specifics of the plan. Though he confirmed that alternatives to the existing security arrangement are being considered, Browne wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the proposal.
The tents set up at the Battery Park waterfront, where the screening currently takes place, were installed in December 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks. The park was supposed to be a temporary locale for screening operations.
However, just over nine years later, the same security measures are in place, and plans to modify them have not yet materialized.
The screening at Battery Park makes the current Liberty Island visitor experience “abysmal,” according to Michael Burke, chief operating officer and vice president of Statue Cruises.
The screening equipment is antiquated, and the crew is understaffed, Burke reported, causing crowds that have resulted in three-hour-long waits on holiday weekends.
Burke said the current system is “insufficient to meet the needs of the visitors, and it doesn’t process enough people safely and efficiently to allow all people who want to go to the statue to go.”
The proposal to move the screening to Ellis Island is a “win-win” for visitors, he said, in that it would virtually eliminate the wait at Battery Park and significantly expedite the screening process over at Ellis Island.
“The difference would be minutes versus hours,” said Burke.
The screening would take place in the Ellis Island’s baggage and dormitory building. Updated security equipment and more centralized management, he said, would also streamline the process.
Statue Cruises has investigated other options for screening locations, such as another area in Battery Park, or Pier A. After careful consideration, however, Burke said, Ellis Island seems to be the only viable alternative.
The southern portion of Battery Park is off limits, according to Burke, since the Coast Guard Foundation has expressed interest in building a museum or heritage center there.
“The Coast Guard is the only military service without a national museum,” said Captain Ron LaBrec, chief of Coast Guard public affairs.
An operator for Pier A still must be selected via a public bid process that has not yet been completed, according to Leticia Ramauro, a spokesperson for the Battery Park City Authority. She wouldn’t comment on whether the National Park Service, who would be in charge of setting up the Liberty Island screening post, is one of the bid candidates.
David Luchsinger, superintendent of Liberty Park, wouldn’t comment on the screening proposal, but agreed that changes definitely need to be made.
“Obviously the conditions we have presently are not the best of circumstances for the visitor,” said Luchsinger. “We’re looking for all kinds of options in order to make that experience better.”
“The Secretary of Interior’s Office will work closely with the Mayor’s Office in reaching a long-term resolution,” said Jane Ahern, chief of public affairs at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island.
The proposal “makes sense to me,” said Community Board 1 Waterfront Committee Co-Chair Bob Townley. Moving the screening services to Ellis Island would have the dual benefit of transporting people more quickly to Liberty Island, he said, and freeing up space in Battery Park.
Jeff Galloway, co-chair of the C.B. 1 Battery Park City Commiteee, said he would also be in favor of moving the screening site, especially since it would free up congestion from the waterfront area.
“I’d want to make sure it satisfies whatever security requirements there are,” said Galloway.
Burke confirmed that all necessary measures will be taken to uphold security on Liberty Island.
The thought of relocating it to Ellis Island, Galloway said, is peculiar. “It sounds a little odd to me that they would wait until they get to [Ellis Island] to screen them,” he said. “I’m not sure what the thinking behind that is.”
Despite the delays in finalizing the security plan, Burke said it could be up and running in the next year for the estimated three-to-four million people that annually visit the Statue of Liberty.
The Dept. of the Interior nor the city would provide an estimated timeline on the proposal, and the mayor wouldn’t comment on the plan, since it is tentative at this point.
Kendra Barkoff, a Dept. of the Interior spokesperson, only issued a statement, saying, “The Department of the Interior is working with the mayor’s office and the N.Y.P.D. to look at opportunities to improve the management of parks in New York City.”