House Democrat Wants $1M to Study Reopening Statue of Liberty's Crown
WASHINGTON – The National Park Service is standing its ground in not allowing visitors to climb 168 steps up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty despite a House Democrat's efforts to use $1 million to study how to reopen it safely.
For the second year in a row, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner added an amendment to the Interior Department spending bill dedicating $1 million to a study by the National Park Service on how to safely reopen the staircase leading to the statue's crown. House lawmakers approved the amendment on Tuesday in a voice vote.
"I'm not going to stop pushing on it and I think it's reasonable to expect that sooner or later they're going to have to answer," Weiner said, a Democrat.
Government officials closed the entire statue to tourism shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but they reopened the lower part of the national monument in 2004 after $20 million went to improving security and safety. Currently, tourists can't go past the pedestal, at Lady Liberty's toes.
A National Park Service spokesman said government officials had already been considering closing the crown before the terror attacks. As early as 1999, they had considered closing off public access because it was a confined area with potential for terrorist activity. After Sept. 11, then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton closed the crown, saying it posed a safety risk.
"We haven't been inclined to reopen the crown access to the Statue of Liberty because we can't ensure the health and safety of our visitors, regardless of terrorism," a national spokesman for NPS, David Barna, told FOXNews.com. "I don't expect the park service to change its mind."
The confined area is a fire hazard, Barna said. He added that visitors making the strenuous climb to the crown risk heat exhaustion and other health risks.
"We want to guarantee the best we can the health and safety of the general public," Barna said.
Barna wouldn't comment on the amendment, since the Park Service hasn't seen it yet.
Weiner said he doesn't know what was done with the money directed to the Park Service last year in a similar bill.
Visitor satisfaction surveys show high marks without complaints about not going up to the crown, said Brian Feeney, an NPS spokesman in New York.
“That staircase was never meant for visitors. It’s a workman’s staircase,” Feeney said. He said it wasn't clear when the stairway to the crown became open to the public.
A staff study in the late 1990s found that it was a safety hazard to allow people to go up to the crown. In 2000, a private engineering company reached the same findings about safety issues and fire hazards, Feeney said.
The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886 and designated a national monument in 1924. It was restored for its centennial on July 4, 1986. Its torch has been closed since 1916.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.