The National Park Service is considering reopening Lady Liberty's crown for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to documents a congressman released on July Fourth.
The park service requested bids last month to study what it would take to safely open the Statue of Liberty's iconic headpiece to the public, according to documents released by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.
Liberty Island was closed after the terrorist attacks. The statue's base, pedestal and lower observation deck reopened in August 2004, after a $20 million effort to enhance fire safety.
But the crown and its interior observation deck, which soar about 265 feet above New York Harbor, remained closed because the Park Service said there was no way to evacuate them safely in an emergency. The narrow spiral staircase that leads up to the crown doesn't comply with fire and building codes.
Visitors are now limited to the statue's 154-foot-tall pedestal.
Weiner, a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, helped arrange a congressional hearing in September on reopening the crown.
He said keeping the observation deck shuttered hurts the city's economy: Since the crown closed, the number of visitors to Lady Liberty has dropped 44 percent, from 3.6 million in 2000 to 2.5 million in 2006.
"The bureaucracy which had stubbornly refused to open the crown is finally moved in the right direction," Weiner said Friday. "Today's news means that America is one step closer to providing what everyone wants: safe access to the heights of Lady Liberty."
The Park Service said in a statement Friday that several architectural and engineering firms have assessed visitor access since the attacks, and that all concluded the area from the pedestal to the crown doesn't meet safety codes.
The newest Park Service survey, sent to nearly 800 security firms, asks them to prepare plans that address whether the statue can be updated to meet fire safety codes, and, if not, how the service can minimize safety risks there.
The deadline for submitting proposals is Wednesday, and the plans would be finalized by January 2009, Weiner said. The House recently agreed to provide $1 million to help fund the work; it wasn't immediately clear Friday whether the Senate would do the same.
The Park Service said the staircase to the observation deck was installed for maintenance workers, not for sightseers. When it was open, rangers responded to emergencies almost daily, especially in summer heat.
Sightseers suffered heat exhaustion, shortness of breath, panic attacks, claustrophobia and fear of heights, the service said.
"The statue's designer, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, never intended visitors to ascend to the crown," spokesman Darren Boch said.
The crown is the only National Park Service site that hasn't reopened since the 2001 attacks. The Park Service oversees such sites as the Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore.
A gift from France to the United States, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886.