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Editorial: Security change at Lady Liberty endangers ferries

The Statue of Liberty is seen from a

The Statue of Liberty is seen from a Staten Island Ferry boat as it passes the famous national treasure. (May 9, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

The Statue of Liberty will reopen on July 4, welcoming for the first time since superstorm Sandy the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of eager tourists, yearning to visit one of the world's great emblems of freedom. That's the good news. But a basic problem demands a fix before the ferries start churning again.

The National Park Service wants to implement a new security plan with the reopening that could leave Liberty Island and Ellis Island less protected from terrorism than they were before. It wants to consolidate its airport-style checkpoints in lower Manhattan's Battery Park and in New Jersey's Liberty State Park into a system that screens visitors as they leave the boats at Ellis and Liberty islands.

The question is: Why diminish pre-Sandy security?

The feds say this won't. But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) convincingly insists it will -- that letting ferries filled with hundreds of unscreened passengers head for such national symbols is like sending "a sitting duck" into New York Harbor. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly agrees. Kelly has been involved in a back-and-forth with federal Interior Secretary Sally Jewell -- whose realm includes the National Park Service -- pleading for a change in plans.

The result so far? Zip.

The park service may have a couple of reasons to resist. First, screening passengers as they disembark on Liberty and Ellis islands is cheaper and simpler. Plus the new modus operandi could relieve pressure from some of the parks service's neighbors. The Battery Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages Battery Park, has long found the federal screening facilities incompatible with its vision for the park.

But the interests of security easily trump the interests of a convenient, orderly and aesthetically pleasing park. The National Park Service should return to its old system.