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Charleston, S.C., lands on a list of endangered sites -- again

October 7, 2011 |  7:10 am

Note to Charleston, S.C.: Your charm is in danger. That's the word from the World Monuments Fund, an advocacy group that has included the historic Southern city on its list of the globe's most threatened cultural heritage sites.

The New York group releases a new list every two years after combing through hundreds of nominations from governments, nongovernmental groups and individuals hoping that publicity about their cherished heritage spots will help preserve them.

The lists tend toward the ancient -- think Machu Picchu in Peru and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon -- but they almost always include at least one modern zinger. Two years ago, the group put the Merritt Parkway of Connecticut on its list, citing its gracious bridges and narrow, tree-lined lanes. (Full story: Preserving the Merritt Parkway's bridges to the past.)

At a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, the Monument Fund's president, Bonnie Burnham, said the group studied 266 nominations before settling on 67 across 40 countries and territories for the latest list.

She said poorly managed tourism is the problem facing many of the sites, which include Charleston's 17th century historic district; ancient geoglyphs in the desert of southern Peru drawn between 500 BC and AD 500; and floating fishing villages along Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.

See the full list and more about the fund here.

"Tourism is a double-edged sword," said Burnham. Indeed, for all the problems that giant cruise ships and soaring tourism may create in a place like Charleston, they also bring tourist dollars. Last year, the city was chosen as the second-favorite city to visit in the United States by readers in Conde Naste Traveler magazine's annual reader survey. San Francisco ranked No. 1.

This is the second such list this year to raise concerns about Charleston's burgeoning cruise ship business. In June, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the city on its list of the 11 most endangered places in the United States.

The listings have angered city officials, who note that they have agreed to limit the number of cruise ship visits to Charleston to 104 per year.

They are at odds with opponents of the cruise ships, who last year filed a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines after its 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy became the city's first ship to be based year-round in Charleston. The suit, filed on behalf of various preservation groups and individuals, alleges that the ship's presence in the waters off the historic district violates zoning and environmental laws.

In a statement after the World Monument Fund's list was announced, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley noted that the cruise business is responsible for 200 jobs on the city's waterfront "and contributes significantly to our local businesses." Riley also said the city expected just 84 cruise ship calls in 2012.

"The city has been continuously cited for its outstanding commitment and management of the balance between being a livable city and being a city that is welcoming" to visitors, he said. (WISTV in South Carolina sums up the debate over Charleston's cruise ships.)

The World Monument Fund says that by placing sites on its watch list, it hopes to raise awareness about their endangered status and prevent further destruction. "All of these sites can be saved," Burnham said. "We'd like to think all of them will be."

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: A horse-drawn carriage carries passengers along Broad Street in Charleston, S.C. Credit: Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau