New Security Plan Being Debated for Statue of Liberty

Plan would shorten lines but concerns among law enforcement have delayed it

Tourists who wait in lengthy screening lines before boarding boats to the Statue of Liberty would instead get onboard and go through security on Ellis Island under a proposal being discussed by city and federal officials.

The plan would eliminate hour-long waits at Manhattan's Battery Park and at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, where passengers are shuttled to both Ellis Island and Liberty Island, the home of the Statue of Liberty. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, visitors were screened only when they went inside the Statue of Liberty.

Tourists who only want to go to Ellis Island wouldn't be screened, said Michael Burke, the chief operating officer of Statue Cruises, which operates the ferries.

"The city is working with the federal government to address the needs of all the different users of the park,'' Mayor Michael Bloomberg's spokesman Jason Post said in a statement. While the federal government has jurisdiction in the matter, federal authorities often work with the city due to shared security concerns.

The New York Police Department wants to examine the ramifications of the plan before any protocols are changed, said Paul Browne, the department's chief spokesman.

The Park Police are not sure about allowing people who haven't passed through metal detectors to board ferries, according to the New York Times. Since the 9/11, all visitors to the Statue and Ellis Island have to go through airport-style security screening before getting on the boats, said the paper.

These concerns have delayed the new security plan for the monument -- preventing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar from announcing the changes in his visit to New York Thursday, the paper reported.

Burke said the plan would streamline operations, improving tourists' visits. The plan also includes a building for security at Ellis Island, so visitors could avoid heat, rain or wind while they wait.

"Our boats will be secure, people will be safe and the people will have a better experience,'' he said.

The proposal is the latest example of making the monument more visitor-friendly since it closed to the public after 9/11. The statue's base reopened in 2004, but the observation deck at the top of Lady Liberty's crown remained closed until July 2009. It's scheduled to close again in the fall for emergency exit improvements.

Details of the plan were first reported in The New York Times, but it has been discussed for months.

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, which oversees the islands through the National Parks Service, declined to discuss the proposal but confirmed that the department is working with the city to find ways to improve parks management there.

In the years after the attacks, other plans to change security have been floated, including using a nearby pier to screen passengers, or land owned by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Burke wasn't sure who came up with the newest plan.  He said the boats would be subject to the same post-9/11 security procedures that the Coast Guard imposes on the Staten Island ferries and commuter ferries around the harbor.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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