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Nik Wallenda one step closer to high-wire walk over Niagara Falls

September 26, 2011 |  6:57 am

Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls
After three nail-biting months, high-wire artist Nik Wallenda has received the go-ahead to take his nail-biting act over Niagara Falls -- sort of. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ended part of the suspense last week when he signed off on a measure that lifts the ban on daredevil acts on the falls.

But Wallenda still needs permission from officials in Canada, because his act would take him over Horseshoe Falls, the 1,800-foot-wide cataract that straddles New York state and Canada. It is one of three cataracts that make up Niagara Falls. The other two are situated entirely in U.S. territory but are neither as wide nor as spectacular as Horseshoe.

Canadian officials have a long history of opposing requests for such acts, and Wallenda told the Buffalo News that if they say no, he'll alter his plans and keep his walk confined to U.S. territory. Wallenda also said he would wait until after Canadian parliamentary elections next month before submitting his request.

Whatever route he takes, Wallenda's hopes of performing his act this fall appear to have been nixed by politics. Winston Simone, Wallenda's friend and one of those helping to organize the event, said in an interview in July that it would be best to get the high-wire act completed in September or the first part of October, before autumn brings stormy weather to the region. Now he's aiming for June because of delays in getting Cuomo's signature and in resolving the Canadian issue.

Even on a hot summer day, gusty winds and sheets of cold spray wash over visitors on viewing platforms, hinting at the harsh conditions Wallenda would face, as we noted in this Los Angeles Times article last July, a month after New York lawmakers approved the bill to make an exception to the ban on daredevil acts. But there was no guarantee Cuomo would sign the bill into law despite endorsement from Niagara Falls' City Council and other officials. He finally did so on Friday.

Wallenda and his supporters say the act could provide a crucial financial shot in the arm to Niagara Falls, N.Y., a former factory city that has fallen on hard times.

It also would help Wallenda, whose act would be featured on "Life on a Wire," a new reality TV show based on his life. Simone, one of the show's producers, has said the wires on which Wallenda plans to walk would be anchored on either side of the falls in ways that would pose no threat to the environment and wouldn't involve drilling into any rocks.

But opponents of the plan say it's an invitation to imitators to try their own stunts at the falls, where daredevil acts have been banned for decades. As recent events have showed, it doesn't take a daredevil to be caught in the waterfalls' deadly torrents.

Last month, a young woman fell to her death over the falls after slipping as she sat on a safety barrier alongside the water.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls. Credit: Tina Susman / Los Angeles Times