From: Ray Lilley, Associated Press
Published June 25, 2007 12:00 AM

Florida Everglades Beats Back Development Pressure, but Dresden Risks Succumbing

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- U.N. officials threatened to strike Dresden from a list of outstanding world cultural sites if current plans for a bridge over the Elbe River go forward, but praised the U.S. for rehabilitating the endangered Florida Everglades.

No site has ever been stripped from the World Heritage List, which identifies over 800 places around the world with "outstanding universal value."

The Everglades, a sanctuary for a large number of birds and reptiles, including threatened species such as the manatee, had been threatened by urban growth and pollution, as well as by the damage caused to Florida Bay in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew.

But conservation efforts at the Everglades National Park have improved future hopes for the site, which was named a World Heritage site in 1979 but placed on an "in-danger" list in 1993, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee said at its annual meeting, being held in New Zealand.

The committee offered similar praise for conservation efforts at the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, which has been on the in-danger list since 1996.

"These corrective measures ... were destined to relieve the site of encroachment by agriculture, timber trade and hunting," the committee said.

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is one of the few remaining tropical rain forests in Central America, home to abundant and varied plant and wildlife and to 2,000 indigenous people, whose traditional lifestyles are threatened by encroaching settlements and agricultural development.

The committee, part of the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, renewed its threat to remove the city of Dresden in Saxony, Germany from the World Heritage List.

The committee wants officials to change plans in place to build a road bridge across the Elbe to ease traffic in Dresden, often referred to as the Florence of the Elbe for the baroque architecture that gives it a distinctive skyline.

"If present plans for a bridge were replaced by a solution that respected the outstanding universal value of the cultural landscape, the site would remain on the World Heritage List," said a statement on the meeting's official Web site.

Saxony's state governor called for the U.N. to retract its ultimatum, and suggested that committee members should instead visit Dresden once the bridge is built to decide for themselves.

"The news from New Zealand comes close to blackmail," Georg Milbradt said in a statement. "The citizens of Dresden have a right to a decision on the definitive removal of world heritage status being made only when the Waldschloesschen bridge has been built."

While the state government has supported the bridge, which was endorsed by a referendum, Dresden's city government has looked for a compromise -- recently commissioning alternative designs. Mayor Lutz Vogel said the UNESCO decision offered a chance for new discussions.

The wording of the statement does not rule out a redesigned bridge.

Meeting for its 31st session in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch, the committee is reviewing the state of conservation at the 830 sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Twenty-nine sites remain on the in-danger list -- threatened by a variety of problems such as natural disasters, pillaging, pollution, and poorly managed mass tourism.

Also being considered is whether to add Ecuador's Galapagos Islands and the Tower of London to the in-danger list -- the first because tourism is threatening its environment, the second because of development pressures around its location.

Delegates will also consider applications to add at least 45 new sites -- including the Sydney Opera House -- to the World Heritage list.


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