Pershing County residents and other concerned citizens are reminded that January 15, 2018 is the Bureau of Land Management’s deadline for public comment on the Burning Man festival.
The BLM must gather public input as it prepares an Environmental Impact Statement on the event. The EIS is required before the agency can issue another ten year Special Recreation Permit for the festival in the spring of 2019. The current SRP expires after the 2018 festival.
Black Rock City LLC, organizer of the event, is requesting that the new SRP allow expansions beyond the current maximum of 70,000 paid participants to a maximum population from 80,000 to 100,000 people on the playa, including ticket-holders, staff, contractors and volunteers.
To accommodate the larger crowd, BRC is also asking the BLM to expand the closure area.Some of the festival’s main attractions are the burning of massive structures, including a giant wooden effigy during the climax of the event. One Burning Man participant died at the 2017 event after he broke through multiple lines of security and leaped into the conflagration.
Nudity and drugs are not uncommon, making the event controversial in a conservative, rural county. Urban areas in Washoe and Lyon County benefit economically from the event while Pershing County supplies much of the law enforcement, incarceration and other services.
The 2013 Comprehensive Festival Ordinance Waiver, Law Enforcement and Settlement Agreement between BRC and Pershing County limits BRC’s costs for county services according to event attendance and integrated versus separate law enforcement command.
The ten-year agreement has become an ongoing source of contention between county law enforcement and festival officials. Even as the festival expands in 2019 and beyond, law enforcement payments to the county are restricted until the agreement expires in 2023.
Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen contends that the festival requires year-round attention and much more than eight days of county law enforcement services due to accidents and crime that occur during the weeks of set up, tear down and clean up before and after the event.
BRC officials respond that law enforcement activities outside the eight day festival are not included in the settlement agreement and are part of the normal costs of county government.
BRC has refused to pay an invoice for $39,959.20 submitted to the county by Sheriff Allen for county law enforcement costs due to activities before and after the 2016 Burning Man event. BRC General Counsel Raymond Allen argued that those expenses were covered in a total payment to the county of $243,964.92, per the settlement agreement.
“The decision to allocate $182,221.83 to the Sheriff out of the total amount that BRC paid to the County in 2016 was an exercise of the County’s sole and absolute discretion under Section 4.1 of the Agreement and was presumably based on what the Commissioners determined to be the cost of supplying ‘reasonable law enforcement services needed’ for the 2016 event,” Ray Allen stated in a letter to the county. “If the Sheriff’s Office disagreed with the Commission and decided to spend more than the amount that was allocated by the Commission, that decision had no effect whatsoever on BRC’s payment obligations under the Agreement.”
Sheriff Allen and other county law enforcement officials say they have confiscated guns inside the festival and question the ability of BRC’s gatekeepers to keep weapons out of the event.
Now that recreational marijuana is legal in Nevada, that should reduce citations issued at the event, Burning Man Political Affairs Manager Marnee Benson said in a letter to the county.
“In 2016, 62 of the 152 PCSO citations issued in connection with the Burning Man event were for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana,” Benson stated in a February 1, 2017 letter.
“That is to say, 41 percent of Pershing’s citations were issued for conduct that is now legal in Nevada. We expect this will free up a significant amount of time and budget for PCSO in 2017.”
In his written comments on the event submitted to the BLM, Lovelock resident David Skelton said if Burning Man expands, it will be an increasing burden on Pershing County taxpayers.
“As Burning Man provides no economic benefit to Pershing County, to the contrary, if Burning Man left Pershing County and went elsewhere, there would then be an economic benefit, due to cost reduction,” Skelton said. “There are multiple locations the event can be held on either public or private lands outside of Pershing County.”
Written comments on the Burning Man SRP should be emailed by Jan. 15, 2018 to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the following address:
Attention: Burning Man Event SRP EIS
BLM Winnemucca District Office, 5100 E. Winnemucca Blvd., Winnemucca, NV 89445.