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Critics Claim NY's Statue of Liberty Could Have Opened Sooner - 2004-04-06

The United States' most treasured symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty, is the center of a controversy over funding and access. The Statue of Liberty's symbolism and its location on a small island at the entrance to New York Harbor led officials to close the national monument immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The island opened 100 days later, but the private foundation charged with reopening the Statue itself said money was needed for repairs and increased security at the site. Last week, with great fanfare, the foundation announced that $7 million has been raised to reopen the Statue of Liberty in July - with acess limited to the bottom section. But now local politicians and members of Congress are asking why the foundation did not use its $30 million endowment for necessary improvements to get the national monument opened sooner.

A spokesperson for the foundation says the group wanted to save the endowment money for ongoing preservation projects. The foundation also says its efforts have been stalled while waiting for approval from the National Park Service, the site's caretaker. The head of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee says the relationship between the National Park Service and the private foundation needs to be examined as do the causes for the delayed reopening.

New York Democratic Senator Charles Shumer agrees. "I do not know who has been at home at the Park Service - this is a governmental agency - to allow this to happen and delay the opening of the statue for such a long time," he said.

Mr. Shumer is also arguing against the restrictions on visitors to the Statue.

"To say they can walk to the base but not the crown does not make any sense at all," he added.

In the past, the foundation has said the narrow stairs inside the Statue make climbing to the top risky.

New York's billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, donated $100,000 to the campaign to reopen the Statue of Liberty. He said, "I did not think they should have closed the Statue of Liberty, period. This is a symbol of America. Come on, let's stand up and have some guts. If we have to add some security people there, let's do it. But let's get it open."

The U.S. Department of Interior, which manages the National Park Service, is also investigating the delays and the role of the private foundation.