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Fate of Wallenda's walk left hanging; With chance of binational walk waning, New York bars U.S.-only venture

Nik Wallenda was told Friday the fate of his dream to walk from the United States to Canada on a wire lies solely with the Canadian officials who have already denied him once.

Hours later, the New York State Parks office took his backup plan away, ruling that a walk taking place solely over the American Falls would be too costly and difficult for the state.

Wallenda came away from a meeting with Ontario's tourism minister Friday morning without a definitive "yes," but perhaps more troubling to him was the state's unexpected decision to bar a U.S.-only walk.

"The costs to New York State of managing a walk only across the American Falls would exceed $1 million in direct state expenses, while, because of the physical topography of Niagara Falls and crowd safety concerns, the number of people who could watch such a walk would be extremely limited," State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said in a statement late Friday.

Last year, Wallenda received permission from the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to rig his stand-alone pulling winch at Goat Island on the U.S. side.

It appears that legislation doesn't apply to a U.S.-only walk, something its sponsor, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, didn't agree with.

"I don't think it necessarily precludes a New York to New York walk," Maziarz said. "I don't quite understand why they chose to do it now."

Maziarz seemed to accept the state's decision, though, and said it might put even more onus on Canada's final decision.

"In effect, they may be putting a little pressure on the Canadians to say, 'This thing is only going to happen if it's U.S. to Canada,' " Maziarz said, adding that he believed the final Canadian decision would be made at the provincial, not local, level.

Earlier in the day, Ontario tourism minister Michael Chan said in a phone interview with The Buffalo News that he could not overrule the Niagara Parks Commission, which decided last month that the member of the famous wire-walking Wallenda family could not perform the stunt in Canada.

Chan said the walk could still take place -- but only if interim Parks Commission Chairwoman Janice Thomson approved the plan after a second meeting with Wallenda.

"With my encouragement, I hope there will be a future conversation and we will see how it goes," Chan said after meeting with Wallenda. "I think he's a passionate individual, a person who's really committed to what he wants to do. I feel good about his presentation."

"It's really up to the Parks Commission," he said. "They have the power."

The Parks Commission chairwoman, though, categorically opposes the stunt.

"Over many years, it has been the mission of the commission that stunting is not the means to create long-term economic investment," she said before Wallenda's first proposal.

Aside from the safety issue of a large crowd gathered to watch a dangerous stunt -- which Wallenda says will be addressed by his private safety team -- the plan was turned down because of a Canadian responsibility "to preserve and protect the falls."

Wallenda and his associates had hoped their presentation about safety measures and potential economic impact could persuade Canadian authorities to allow the walk.

Wallenda manager Winston Simone said the next meeting with Thomson would allow for a more thorough proposal. When Wallenda laid out his plan in December, he had only 10 minutes of the Parks Commission's eight-hour meeting to make his case.

"We wouldn't change anything about the presentation, but we'd love to engage with them as far as questions and comments and anything like that," Simone said.

The stuntman has said his attempt to walk above the cataracts on an 1,800-foot tightrope would generate $20 million in tourism revenue in Niagara Falls, Ont., and would draw up to 125,000 spectators and international media attention.

"Those are big items that we have discussed," Chan said.

Wallenda has said he would appeal the Niagara Parks Commission's decision for up to 10 years and "won't give up."

Simone hinted that another meeting with Thomson could occur as early as next week.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com