Because of a lack of government funding, the cannon blasts from the Battle of New Orleans will be staged this year next to a Walmart Supercenter.
St. Bernard Parish officials said Monday that plans are underway to move the "living history" re-enactments set for this week's anniversary of the 1815 battle to Sidney Torres Park instead of the Chalmette Battlefield, the site where U.S. forces led by Gen. Andrew Jackson defeated an invading British army.
The battlefield, which is where the annual events have been held since they began in 1982, is overseen by the U.S. National Park Service. It remains closed amid the partial shutdown of the federal government.
According to the park service, Monday was the last day that staff could have returned to their jobs and still made the necessary preparations for the activities set for this week. As of Monday, President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress had not reached an agreement to end the shutdown.
Parish officials tried to ask the park service for permission to access the battlefield for events, but St. Bernard Parish Tourism Director Katherine Tommaseo said they weren’t able to reach anyone because offices aren’t being staffed and official business has ceased.
Despite the shutdown, "We still need to commemorate the Battle of New Orleans and the War of 1812," said Tommaseo, which is why the parish decided to move the events to Torres Park, located behind the St. Bernard Parish government building just over a mile from the battlefield.
Tommaseo said the parish will spend “a few thousand” dollars through its tourism fund to hold the events, which include the “living history” re-enactment Friday and Saturday, as well as a commemorative wreath-laying Tuesday marking 204 years since the start of the battle.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser is scheduled to speak at a 7:30 a.m. breakfast Tuesday at the nearby Jackson Barracks before the wreath is placed — this year, outside the Chalmette Battlefield gates.
This is the first time since the annual stagings started that one has been held outside the battlefield, according to St. Bernard Parish Historian Bill Hyland, though some activities were held in Torres Park during the battle's bicentennial in 2015 to comply with park service rules.
Tommaseo said canceling the commemoration wasn’t an option they considered.
“This identifies St. Bernard Parish,” Tommaseo said of the event that typically attracts at least 8,000 people.
The relocation of events related to the Battle of New Orleans has highlighted the local effects of the federal government shutdown that’s now well into its third week. Across the U.S., many federal offices remain shuttered, and workers are now facing the prospect of weeks without a paycheck.
There have also been reports of long security lines at some airports after Transportation Security Administration employees, who have been ordered to keep working without being paid, allegedly called in sick en masse.
Concerns also have been raised nationally over funding of social programs, like housing assistance. According to a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of New Orleans, which provides rental assistance to more than 18,000 households, funding for rental voucher programs currently remains available.
Not every part of the federal government is unfunded, though. Chalmette resident Tim Strain counts himself among the lucky ones, as he continues to get paid in his role as a bank examiner for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., even during the shutdown.
But as a re-enactor for Plauche’s Battalion in the Battle of New Orleans, he's hoping that the location change won't lower attendance.
For Strain, showing the approximately 3,000 schoolchildren who come on field trips to the event what happened at the Battle of New Orleans is one of the most important things he does every year.
“The one thing I want to do is tell a story — because if we don’t, nobody will,” Strain said.