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Nagin rejects limits on rebuilding in New Orleans

Residents in vulnerable areas can reconstruct

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Nagin is urging residents in vulnerable areas to accept buyouts.

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New Orleans (Louisiana)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- All New Orleans residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina should be allowed to rebuild if they choose, and the city will not stand in the way of reconstruction in areas considered vulnerable to flooding in future storms, Mayor Ray Nagin announced Monday.

However, the mayor warned residents that even with repairs now being made to the city's levee system, some neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city will remain vulnerable to storm flooding for as long as two years, until more improvements can be made.

He urged residents to consider taking advantage of a buy-out program that would pay them up to $150,000 for property in those areas. (Watch residents lash out at mayor -- 1:42)

"The Army Corps of Engineers has warned me that some of our lowest-lying areas of New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward will have some flooding from levees overtopping if another hurricane travels along the same path of Katrina," Nagin said.

Nagin spoke at a news conference to unveil the final recommendations of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, an advisory group he appointed to create a blueprint for redeveloping the hurricane-ravaged city.

The mayor said he had rejected a controversial proposal for a moratorium on issuing building permits in flood-damaged neighborhoods that don't have a viable redevelopment plan, which triggered anger at recent public hearings.

"I have confidence that our citizens can intelligently decide for themselves where they want to rebuild, once presented with the facts," Nagin said. "I believe government investment should follow citizens' investment."

Nagin also said that while he supported creating new parks and open spaces to help with flood prevention, he would not "expropriate" property for that purpose. He said he would only use that power to clear blighted areas.

The suggestion by the commission that some areas of the city might not be redeveloped triggered a political firestorm among displaced New Orleans residents.

Commission members insisted they only wanted to make the reconstruction process more orderly, concentrating rebuilding in areas with access to overstretched city services. But critics complained that limiting redevelopment would discourage the city's mostly black diaspora from coming home.

Nagin, who is black, has drawn 23 opponents in the April 22 municipal election. Many of his major challengers are white, reflecting the changed demographics of the city, which was two-thirds black before Katrina struck in August.

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