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Lawmakers mull request for Niagara Falls stunt

NIAGARA FALLS — A bill that would allow a member of the daredevil Wallenda family to attempt a tightrope walk across the Niagara Gorge at Niagara Falls is making its way through the New York Legislature.

The measure was passed last week by the Senate and was expected to come before the Assembly as early as Tuesday.

Supporters say it would bring tourism and publicity to Niagara Falls, help the economically troubled city and carry on a fascinating tradition of death-defying stuntsmanship at the thundering waterfalls straddling the United States and Canada.

Jean Francois Gravelot — “the Great Blondin” — was the first to cross the gorge on a wire, back in 1859. But it’s been more than 100 years since anyone has repeated the now-illegal feat.

“Daredevils and their exploits are a big part of the storied history of Niagara Falls,” reads a memo filed with the Assembly bill sponsored by western New York Democrat Dennis Gabryszak.

“It has been many years since anyone has been able to follow in the footsteps of the Great Blondin,” the memo says. “In the meantime, tourism in Niagara Falls has declined on the American side, as the Falls was separated from its daredevil history.”

As recently as 2007, “Skywalker” Jay Cochrane has sought permission to cross the gorge at the brink of the falls. He also was turned down in 1996. Parks officials in the United States and Canada have cited concerns about safety, cost and environmental impact, which are the basis for strict policies against stunting and daredevil acts at the falls.

The pending legislation would direct the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to write rules and regulations specifically allowing Nik Wallenda, a member of the famed “Flying Wallendas,” to traverse the gorge before Aug. 30. Wallenda would bear all safety, security and other costs and release the state from responsibility should something go wrong.

“Mr. Wallenda is uniquely qualified for this feat, as he is the holder of two world records for high wire performance and is a seventh-generation tightrope walker,” according to the bill, which was sponsored in the Senate by Republican George Maziarz.

Gabryszak was hopeful the Assembly would vote on the legislation Tuesday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office was reviewing it, spokesman Josh Vlasto said.

The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario, sent a letter in support of the bill. Calls to the Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario were not immediately returned.

“There’s always a risk of danger,” Gabryszak said. “I think Mr. Wallenda is not going to do anything reckless or careless.”

Wallenda and his mother completed a high-wire stunt earlier this month at the site in Puerto Rico where Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978.