By Michael Ausiello
July 29, 2010 at 06:04 AM EDT

CSI: NY‘s former leading lady, Melina Kanakaredes, may not be returning to wrap up her story line, but producers still plan to give her character, Stella, a dignified send-off.

“We’re giving her a noble exit,” says coexecutive producer Zachary Reiter. “We chose not to go the route of killing her off or having her go missing. We felt that would weigh too heavily on the team.”

According to showrunner Pam Veasey, viewers will learn during the show’s Sept. 24 premiere—which picks up several months after the season 6 finale—that Stella relocated to New Orleans. “She left to run a lab there,” says Veasey. “And she picked that city because it’s the city of Katrina, the city of BP oil, the city where people are looking for someone to lend a hand.

“She’ll essentially be Mac in New Orleans,” she continues. “We wanted to do something that was respectful and made a lot of sense.”

As previously reported, Emmy winner Sela Ward has been tapped to fill the void left by Kanakaredes.

Photo: Eric Leibowitz/CBS; Bob Charlotte/PR Photos