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Wallenda faces safety concerns ; As daredevil prepares for prime time walk across the falls, a stream of issues continues to flow, especially one that may require him to wear a harness

Nik Wallenda doesn't want to wear a harness when he walks on a wire above Niagara Falls. But his sponsors want to make him.

He'd prefer to start the walk in the U.S. and end in Canada, though television officials would have it the other way around.

And he wants the event to be completely free to spectators -- something state officials haven't agreed to.

There's a lot of pressure and a seemingly endless stream of requests on the 33-year-old stuntman, something that has his handlers shaking their heads -- and pushing forward.

"Things come up moment by moment," said his father, Terry Troffer. "It's been a long, arduous process, and there have been a few hiccups along the way. [But] Nik will handle all of that."

The latest -- and most worrisome -- issue for Wallenda centers around the sponsors who want to see Wallenda wear a safety device to avoid a death fall -- and potential damage to their brand.

"Hopefully by mid-next week, I'll be able to budge them," Wallenda said. "They're saying, right now, there's no choice, and I'm trying to change that."

To demonstrate his family's aversion to wearing a safety device, Wallenda expected to practice Friday with a speed boat blowing air and a fire hose shooting water at him. Those plans, though were stalled by incomplete paperwork.

He trained earlier in the week in the pouring rain but was unable to obtain a wind or mist machine then because the companies, fearing liability, backed out when they realized what the devices would be used for.

Wallenda said he would wear the wire if he is forced to, dismissing the notion that a harness would drain the drama from the stunt.

But Troffer, who doubles as his son's safety coordinator, said he "hates the idea" that someone believes they know better than Wallenda's family about safety.

Jeffrey W. Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News, declined to say whether the network wanted Wallenda to wear the wire but said safety precautions would be taken.

"We're very aware of the fact that kids are going to be watching this with their parents," Schneider said.

Sources with knowledge of the situation said ABC also is lobbying Wallenda to walk his 1,800-foot steel cable from Canada to the U.S. The sources said the network is working to get President Obama to call Wallenda if he makes it across, something Schneider denied.

Wallenda, though, has expressed a preference for walking from the U.S. to Canada. That way, he said he could focus on a fixed point on the Canadian wall of the Niagara Gorge. If he walks to the U.S., he would only face a wall of thundering water, something he said could pose a challenge.

Weather also will play a role in the direction of the walk.

"I prefer to have the winds coming in my direction, so I can lean into them," he said, "and not from behind or the side."

Wallenda also joined Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, in calling for the state to make the event free to the public. State officials said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office has not decided whether the State Parks office will charge for the event.

"We must now work to make certain that all New Yorkers are welcome to this event," Ceretto wrote in a letter to the governor this week.

The stuntman, who previously told The Buffalo News he was unhappy with the organization and planning of American officials, said Friday he is now happier about the city's support. City lawmakers Friday passed a law allowing vendors to sell their wares during the week of the event.

"It seems like everyone's stepping up now," Wallenda said. "As the reports came out, the city is coming together."

Wallenda also laughed at the notion that he is finally more popular than one of the Beatles. The Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort pushed back Ringo Starr's concert on June 15 from 9 p.m. to 7 p.m. to accommodate the walk.

"I felt bad about it, actually," he said. "But it shows the amount of interest in this, for sure."

Wallenda said he will perform his walk at 10:10 p.m. as part of a three-hour ABC special from 8 to 11 p.m.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com