A newly elected New Orleans city councilman whose district includes the Lower 9th Ward has withdrawn a package of ordinances that would have required tour buses to pay fees to access the neighborhood.
Councilman James Gray, who took office last month, says he needs more time to research the issue, which was introduced by his predecessor. The new ordinances were brought before the council in November by then-Councilman Ernest Charbonnet. They would have required hundreds of dollars in fees per tour vehicle and fines for those caught in the area without a decal or those that venture off approved tour routes.
Gray withdrew the proposed measures Thursday.
"We'd like an opportunity to study the issues and have meaningful conversations with the community before going forward," Gray said in a statement Thursday.
When in office, Charbonnet said the proposed legislation stemmed from complaints by residents that tour vehicles were blocking streets and damaging roads. Residents also were weary of being gawked at, he said.
But not all residents were bothered by the tour buses. Some said they enjoyed waving to tourists and selling homemade treats such as pralines, a popular New Orleans candy, as the buses wended through the neighborhood.
Currently, the city has an ordinance in place that bans tour buses from the Lower 9th Ward. It was passed after Hurricane Katrina to keep tour buses and shuttles from impeding cleanup and recovery efforts. The neighborhood was devastated when levees failed during the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Many homes were pushed off their foundations after floodwalls collapsed. Blocks of the neighborhood remain vacant and overgrown with weeds.
Many tour companies nixed the neighborhood from their routes over the summer when buses were stopped and ticketed.
About 9 million people visit New Orleans each year, and Katrina tours are popular among those wanting an up-close look at the houses being built by Make It Right, the foundation launched after Katrina by actor Brad Pitt, as well as the home of rock 'n roll star Fats Domino.
Many Katrina tours also include the Musicians Village, a post-Katrina effort in the Upper 9th Ward launched by entertainers Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. The Musicians Village isn't off limits to tour buses.