ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — State and federal officials on Friday reached an agreement to reopen the Statue of Liberty despite an ongoing standoff between President Barack Obama’s administration and the Republican majority in the House that has put a halt to the federal funding for national parks.
In the deal between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the National Park Service, the state will pay about $61,600 daily to open Liberty Island National Park to visitors beginning this weekend.
“We will not allow this international symbol of freedom to remain closed because of the dysfunction and gridlock of Washington,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The National Park Service, which has had to furlough more than 20,000 employees, said the agreement allows for the park to be open Saturday through Oct. 17 for about $369,000.
“This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities in New York during this shutdown,” Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.
Local businesses have complained the shutdown has stifled sales and forced layoffs as tourists have been turned away.
New York has 33 sites under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, and they have been shut since Oct. 1 during the partial federal government shutdown. The sites include the statue and nearby Ellis Island, which has been closed for repairs since Superstorm Sandy last year.
Nearly 4 million people visited Lady Liberty in 2011, generating $174 million in economic activity, the park service said.
Governors in several other states have asked for authority to reopen parks within their borders, citing economic losses from closures. In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer announced the Grand Canyon would reopen.
Bradford Hill, president of the company that operates the gift shop and food service at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, said his company has laid off 110 employees because of the shutdown. He estimated that 152,000 potential visitors have been unable to visit, costing his firm $750,000 in lost sales.
The statue is normally open seven days a week. The company would like to bring its staff back immediately and could reopen Saturday morning, Hill said.
Statue Cruises, which in conjunction with the National Park Service runs boats from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, gets about 7,000 to 10,000 passengers a day. Employee Nancy Hine said the boats are getting about 3,000 daily since the shutdown. All they can offer now is a one-hour tour of the harbor, which includes floating near the statue so tourists can take pictures.
Tourist Manish Tripathi, from Delhi, India, took one of the abbreviated cruises.
“You could not even get that close to get a good picture,” she said. “When we see America in the movies it was always the Statue of Liberty. Without the statue, it doesn’t feel totally like America.”