After NY officials raise concerns, feds reverse Ellis, Liberty islands security plan

(CNN) -- Days after a senator and a police official raised security concerns, the Interior Department has reversed a National Parks Service plan to screen visitors only after they arrived by ferry at two of New York's landmarks -- Ellis and Liberty islands.

In a letter written to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel announced the change and requested that a security screening facility be built in Manhattan's Battery Park so visitors will be screened before embarking for the historic islands.

Jewell requested that the city immediately begin getting the permits to build a temporary security screening facility in Manhattan before the July 4th opening weekend for Liberty Island, which is home to the Statue of Liberty.

Both islands were hard hit by Superstorm Sandy in October and have been closed since then. Ellis Island will remain closed as it undergoes extensive repairs.

A National Parks Service spokesman said in a statement that the agency remains committed to implementing a plan that does not compromise the safety of their visitors.

"Safety will continue to be our number one priority as we re-establish a temporary screening facility at Battery Park," said park service spokesman John Warren. "We are prepared to begin work immediately and appreciate the partnership with the City of New York that we will need to allow for a reopening of the Statue on July 4."

Recent park service changes -- with visitors to be allowed on ferries and on the islands before security scrutiny -- were challenged by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Criticizing the proposed security changes, Kelly told reporters last week, "The NYPD and the National Park Service have differences when it comes to ideas on how to protect visitors from a terrorist attack."

"It's sort of ridiculous. It's sort of saying we are going to screen people at airports after they get on the plane," Schumer told reporters last week. "They've made a serious mistake here, and we are asking them to rethink it, to change it and simply go back to the old procedure."

In response to Jewell's letter announcing the change, Schumer thanked the Interior Department for its quick decision in time for the July holiday weekend.

"This solution wisely avoids any trade-off between speed-of-opening and optimum security procedures," said Schumer. "The Statue of Liberty is vital to maintaining our pre-eminence as the tourist capital of America, and with these procedures in place, it can continue to safely draw people from around the world."

Since 9/11, visitors have been screened at a lower Manhattan security checkpoint before boarding the daily ferries to the islands.


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