Hundreds of people who work at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are frustrated that the National Park Service still has no firm date for reopening the landmarks to tourists since their closure from Hurricane Sandy.
One worker who spoke to NBC 4 New York and asked that his name not be revealed for fear of retaliation said that the nearly 400 tour guides, souvenir sales workers, vendors and other contractors who work on Liberty Island are struggling financially.
“They're having trouble paying their mortgage and their credit cards are behind," he said.
In January, Congress approved $59 million for repairing the national parks, but two months later, there is no timetable for completion.
“Our responsibility is to make sure the visitors are safe when they visit these sites,” said Linda Friar, a National Parks spokeswoman. “We’re going as fast as we can to get visitors back on the island as quickly as possible.”
Critics, including Sen. Charles Schumer, are not buying it.
“They did have lots of flooding from Sandy, but it’s no excuse. This is a national icon,” he said.
Schumer told the I-Team that he has been pressing U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to get the parks open.
Friar said opening the Statue of Liberty is the Parks Service's top priority.
Still, workers believe more could have been done in the nearly five months since Sandy, including the installation of a temporary floating dock where the former dock was destroyed.
“It’s something we’re looking at,” said Friar.
Also wrecked by Sandy was a security screening checkpoint in Battery Park City where tourists were checked for weapons and contraband. Both the tent and the screening machines were destroyed.
Now, there is some debate over where the new security facility will be located. The Parks Service has considered plans to move it to Ellis Island, but Friar insists that security questions have not contributed to delays in reopening either Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.
As workers wait for repair work to be completed, more of them are turning to government assistance to feed their families.
“We say that people have to be accountable and the National Parks Service is not being accountable,” said the unnamed worker.