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New Orleans Plan Would Allow Low-lying Areas to Rebuild

The plan, shaped by Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back commission, also aims to create a light-rail system, reorganize the city’s troubled school system, eliminate a large shipping channel and create a new jazz district downtown.

The issue of rebuilding is the most expensive and controversial aspect of the plan. An earlier proposal by the Urban Land Institute had suggested the city first focus its efforts on sections of the city on higher ground. But that proposal was immediately questioned by representatives of the Ninth Ward and other low-lying areas.

Instead, the mayor’s panel proposed imposing a moratorium on building permits in the hardest hit areas until residents determine their own rebuilding plan. Each neighborhood would have a four-month period to prove there are enough residents interested in returning to create a sustainable community.

However, the commissioners conceded that not every neighborhood will be sustainable. They proposed creating the Crescent City Redevelopment Corp. to either buy back property from displaced residents or use eminent domain to seize property targeted for redevelopment.

The commission’s recommendations are not binding. They must first be endorsed by Nagin and ultimately must be approved by the White House and the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency that disburses federal aid.

President Bush is scheduled to visit New Orleans Thursday and meet with Nagin and Mel LaGarde, one of the leaders of the Bring Back New Orleans commission.

The report estimates rebuilding will cost more than $17 billion with most of the cost, $12 billion, devoted to land buyouts. The light rail proposal is the second most expensive item at a cost of $3.3 billion.

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