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Legislation regulating Lockport Cave Boat Tour signed into law

Two orange, wooden emergency barricades stand in a parking lot in the foreground. Five cars, one of which is an EMS vehicle, are parked behind the barricades. Over a dozen people are standing outside a cabin that serves as the entrance to the cave. A tall green sign on the right side of the photo reads "Lockport Cave: Now hiring, open." The skies are cloudy and gray.
Grant Ashley / WBFO News
Harshad Shah, a 65-year-old hotel president and Niagara Falls president, died in the June 12, 2023 boat capsizing. Eleven others were injured.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill Friday that regulates the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Tour, one year and two days after an accident at the attraction took one man’s life.

The legislation requires the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to inspect “vessels operated in underground non-navigable waterways” — like the boats used in the Lockport Cave — on an annual basis.

The legislation was a direct response to an incident last year when a tour boat capsized inside the cave, killing 65-year-old hotel president Harshad Shah and injuring 11 others. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature.

Hochul said in a statement after signing the bill that the new regulations would “help prevent future tragedies and protect boat passengers.”

“By signing this legislation into law, we are ensuring that we have the necessary oversight authority to keep New Yorkers and tourists safe,” Hochul continued.

The cave was deemed unsafe one day later because of an electrical issue. Further investigation revealed that the cave tour was subject to “irregular inspections” by entities ranging from the New York State Canal Corporation to the City of Lockport, according to Republican State Senator Rob Ortt, whose district includes Lockport.

Ortt said the “unique” nature of the attraction made it difficult to categorize and regulate.

“During the time that we were putting this bill together and talking to people, I was not made aware of another attraction like this,” Ortt told reporters at a press conference Wednesday, where he and other state lawmakers called on Hochul to sign the bill as soon as possible. “It’s not really an amusement park. It’s not a waterway like the canal or the Niagara River or Lake Ontario. So, it doesn’t fall into those neat definitions that we have, and that was sort of the blind spot in law.”

Litigation against the Lockport Cave, the City of Lockport, Niagara County and various state entities is ongoing. Victims of the capsizing filed five new lawsuits in State Supreme Court just last week.

The Lockport Cave remains closed. Ortt said that the attraction’s owner informed him that the tour would not be running until at least next year.

“They wanted all of this to get settled, squared away, fixed, and then maybe next year open that part of it back up,” Ortt said.