Burning Man organizers can’t escape higher fees for big show

By MARTIN GRIFFITH, Associated Press Writer
Monday July 08, 2002

RENO — Organizers have secured a permit to stage the annual Burning Man counterculture festival on the Nevada desert, but won’t be able to dodge higher federal fees. 

Bureau of Land Management officials say they’re required by regulation to assess organizers a $4 per person fee to hold the popular event on the Black Rock Desert 120 miles north of Reno near Gerlach. 

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey last year urged the agency to lower the fee for the event known for its offbeat artwork, music and games, noting it was $2 before it doubled in 1999. 

Billed as a celebration of art and radical self-expression, the event is expected to draw about 28,000 people from at least 40 states and 20 countries over the week leading up to Labor Day. 

“It’s pretty clear in the regulations what we have to assess,” said Dave Cooper of the BLM’s Winnemucca field office. “We told them we have no flexibility and I think they understand it.” 

Organizers say the issue is not so much the fee itself but what the BLM does with the money. They complain the agency raked in $502,000 from the fee last year, but only spent about half on the festival itself. 

Organizers say BLM now is trying to pay less for law enforcement costs than they did last year. 

The event is staged by Black Rock City LLC, a non-profit based in San Francisco. 

“We’re not trying to get the regulations changed. That’s tilting at windmills,” said Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell. “But at this point we can put pressure to make sure the money is being used for things it should be used for. 

“That money should be going to management of the event itself. We want more bang for our buck,” she said. 

Nearly all the fee revenue from the 17-year-old event goes to the BLM’s Winnemucca district, which manages the Black Rock Desert. 

Cooper said half of the money is spent on law enforcement and other festival-related costs, and the rest goes to the district’s budget. 

“It has definitely helped us financially,” Terry Reid, field manager for the Winnemucca office, told the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Organizers have discussed the fee in Washington, D.C. with aides of eight congressmen, including Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both D-Calif., Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev. 

“They were sympathetic to our position,” Goodell said. “The issue is we are the largest special recreation permittee in the United States and this fee is extraordinarily large.” 

No other major issue surfaced during the permit process for the event this year, Cooper said. 

For a third straight year, the festival will be staged at the same spot seven miles north of Gerlach. About half of the site is in a newly created National Conservation Area designed to protect historic trails and unspoiled terrain in the area. 

BLM officials are warning participants that drug laws again will be enforced. 

Organizers are hoping a wet winter will help cut down on dust at the festival site. Streets will be watered to reduce dust during the event.