By Andy Grimm
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - In New Orleans, a city synonymous with music and raucous revelry, government officials are launching a public health campaign aimed at turning down the volume.
The city this week announced the start of "Sound Check," the latest attempt to address residents' complaints about excessive noise and 60-year-old sound standards city attorneys say are unenforceable.
Health inspectors will monitor decibel levels in the French Quarter and trendy Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, where noise has long been an issue of contention between residents and music venues that operate close to homes.
The new initiative will focus initially on educating musicians and club owners about the negative health effects of loud music, such as harm to hearing, rather than enforcement, the city said.
It's an approach similar to the drive that preceded the successful passage of a city-wide indoor smoking ban this year, despite opposition from bar and casino interests.
Ethan Ellestad, spokesman for a coalition of venue owners and artists, was cautiously optimistic about the plan.
He said striking the right balance in the governance of sound levels was fundamental to preserving the city's status as one of the world's musical centers.
His group protested a move to revamp the city's noise ordinance last year because it would have reduced existing decibel limits city-wide.
"If you make 80 decibels the limit in the French Quarter, you're never going to realistically have a brass band that can perform," Ellestad said.
The proposal failed to win approval from the New Orleans City Council, with elected officials torn between complaints from residents' groups and pleas from club owners and musicians concerned that stricter enforcement of noise rules would shut down shows and hurt business.
But owners are keen to get the issue resolved. Residents frustrated by the city's lax enforcement of its noise ordinance have resorted to filing lawsuits against music venues, causing some to drop live entertainment, Ellestad said.
Lorelei Cropley, a public health professor who once sued a bar near her home in the Marigny neighborhood over excessive noise, also welcomed the city's latest effort to tone down its tunes.
"New Orleans is a city where the buildings are very close together, and in the Jazz Age, (music venues) didn't have the amplification they have today," she said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bernadette Baum)