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Statue of Liberty set to reopen by July 4

A falcon sits perched atop the Statue of

A falcon sits perched atop the Statue of Liberty. Superstorm Sandy caused extensive damage to National Park Service facilities on Liberty Island. (Dec. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Out of commission since superstorm Sandy, the Statue of Liberty finally has a timetable for its long-awaited return.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ended months of uncertainty and speculation about the reopening Tuesday and said Liberty Island would be back in business by the Fourth of July. New Yorkers and tourists alike also will be able visit the crown again.

Although the iconic copper statue didn't suffer extreme damage from the Oct. 29 storm, Sandy wreaked havoc on the rest of the island, destroying docks and crippling its electrical and plumbing infrastructure.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that once Congress approved $59 million to repair the island in January, he pushed the National Park Service to work as fast as possible because the damage was hurting the city's economy.

"Since Sandy, hundreds of thousands of visitors have been deprived of visiting one of New York's most iconic sites," he said in a conference call.

Schumer said business owners have struggled for months financially because they didn't know when the statue would reopen.

Salazar said crews have been working several shifts to restore Liberty Island's facilities, including its security systems, and build a new dock that can withstand storms.

He left open the possibility that the island could open sooner if work is done faster.

"July 4 is a date we can assure . . . the people of New York and the people of the world that it will be open," he said.

Ironically, the storm hit a day after visitors were able to visit the crown for the first time after a yearlong renovation.

No date has been set for reopening Ellis Island because it suffered more damage, but a National Park Service spokesman said historical documents there were saved.

Both islands saw close to 4 million visitors in 2011, generating $174 million in revenue, according to Salazar.

Schumer said his office has received many calls from businesses in downtown Manhattan, including restaurants, boathouses and hotels, that said they were losing thousands of dollars a week because tourists were not visiting the statue.

Catherine McVay Hughes, chairwoman of Manhattan's Community Board 1, which includes Liberty Island, said that in addition to the lost revenue, the statue's closure meant tourists had less of an enticement to explore other historical aspects of Manhattan.

"More people go to see the Statue of Liberty than the Grand Canyon," she said. "A lot of schoolchildren head there as part of their school curriculum and it's important they know the history of the statue and the neighborhood."

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