Spat erupts between Grand Isle, Tarpon Rodeo

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 31, 2012 at 3:33 PM

GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) -- The town council here is withholding a permit for one of the most popular fishing tournaments in Louisiana -- the 84-year-old Tarpon Rodeo -- over complaints that the event does not do enough for local vendors and pay overtime for firefighters.

The Times-Picayune reports (http://bit.ly/H5RDwx) that the council voted 3-2 this past week to withhold the permit until the rodeo reaches agreements with two local vendors for beer and daiquiri booths and reimburses the town's fire department for overtime expenses.

Rodeo organizers said the tourism-dependent island receives plenty of benefits from the event.

The rodeo, scheduled to take place in late July, draws about 15,000 people and is the signature tourism event for the barrier island where about 1,000 people live.

Councilman Stephen "Scooter" Resweber made the motion to withhold the permit because he said residents are fed up with the traffic and public drunkenness that accompany the rodeo and that the town wants to make sure locals receive their share of the benefits.

"We put up with a lot, but we don't get much in return," Resweber said. He raised the issue during his successful re-election campaign this month.

"The rodeo is not put on to benefit anyone but the town of Grand Isle," said Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, a past president of the Tarpon Rodeo and member of the rodeo's board. "This is almost a slap in the face to an entity that has brought a lot of goodwill to Grand Isle."

"We believe the way they went about this was improper and borders on extortion," Roberts said. "It is illegal for elected officials to say they won't grant a permit unless you do business with certain vendors."

The motion calls for the rodeo to reach written agreements with the Grand Isle Rotary Club for a beer booth and the Grand Isle Island Daiquiri Shop to sell daiquiris for an "agreeable percentage of the proceeds."

Resweber said the Rotary Club used to get 50 percent of the beer sales, but that figure was reduced to 25 percent a few years ago, prompting the club to drop out.

Roberts said the Rotary Club's 50 percent take proved unsustainable for the rodeo. He said the rodeo provides everything associated with the beer booth, including the liquor license and beer.

The town council is also calling on the rodeo to pay about $10,000 in overtime wages linked to the rodeo.

Roberts countered that at least a half-dozen law-enforcement agencies from communities that receive far fewer direct benefits from the rodeo than Grand Isle provide scores of officers to help with traffic and security at no cost.

The rodeo has been held every year since 1928, except for 2010 when it was canceled because of the BP PLC oil spill.

Roberts said the rodeo association has no intention of negotiating for a permit and is prepared to take legal action if necessary.

Resweber said he's just trying to ensure the economic benefits spread beyond the town's bar owners. "Bring our local vendors back, and maybe we'd be willing to put up with all of this stuff," he said, referring to the traffic and noise.

Roberts said that denying a permit for the rodeo because of the inconvenience to Grand Isle residents would be like "canceling Mardi Gras because of all the rowdiness in the French Quarter."

"Grand Isle's economy is based on tourism," he said. "You lose tourism and the town can't survive."

AP-WF-03-31-12 1701GMT

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