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Save Ellis Island Chairman Hopes Island Reopens in 2014

10-14-13

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaching, Ellis Island is still recovering from the storm. Save Ellis Island Foundation Chairman Peter Lillo told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the government shutdown has delayed the reopening, which he hopes will now happen sometime in 2014.

Since the storm hit the tri-state area, Ellis Island has been closed. Most of the island sustained damage and has been without power since.

“It thoroughly damaged most of the island,” Lillo explained. “Knocked out the electrical power, the HVAC system and kind of flooded the entire island. They had to move one million artifacts to Maryland or else they would have been water damaged.”

Along with the flooding and the electrical problems from the storm, the ferry and laundry buildings, which had been restored prior to the storm, also got damaged. The total price tag of the damage is about $400,000.

In a partnership with the National Park Service, Save Ellis Island has been working to restore the island and is looking for additional partnerships to help with the work.

The Statue of Liberty reopened on Independence Day following the storm and though it was closed for the beginning part of the government shutdown, it reopened Sunday using New York state funds. Ellis Island has yet to reopen since it sustained heavy damage from Sandy and since the government shutdown, the targeted reopen date has been pushed back.

“The main immigration museum, it was part of Liberty Park too, so if it was ready to be open that would have been open as well, along with the statue,” said Lillo. “It just wasn’t ready. We were hoping to have it open by the end of October, which would have been a year since Sandy, but I think because of the government shutdown it’s got pushed back a little bit. So it would have been opened if it had been in repair.”

With the closure of Ellis Island, none of the employees have been able to work on the island and no visitors have been allowed since the storm hit.

“It’s very sad. I mean they were getting over 10,000 visitors a day,” Lillo said. “And the interesting thing was, most folks who came visiting from Europe and other parts of the world they actually wanted to see Ellis more than the Statue. They were getting off on Ellis and wanting to see, you know, the history of where maybe relatives came from. And, you know, everybody has a story. Whether their families came through Ellis or they know somebody who came through Ellis. That really was the first point of disembarkment for many folks who step foot on American soil for the first time. They saw the Statue, then they went to Ellis Island and they were either on their way to hopefully a better life in America or they spent a little time on the island recuperating from the long journey. So it is truly crucial that we open this island again soon.”

The National Park Service had targeted the end of October as the initial reopening date for Ellis Island but with the government shutdown, all plans and repairs have been pushed back. The repairs to fix the damage to the ferry and laundry buildings still need to be made. Had the island reopened, it would have been just the main building.

Lillo is hopeful the island can reopen in 2014.