All the "Burners" out there can rest easy — this summer’s Burning Man desert festival has been greenlighted by federal officials.
The annual gala in northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert last week received a needed permit from the Bureau of Land Management ahead of its scheduled Aug. 30 kickoff, festival organizers announced on the event’s website. The weeklong counterculture festival — which attracts tens of thousands of participants known as Burners and culminates with torching a giant effigy — is slated to run through Sept. 7.
BLM gave the go-ahead after a public feud over the specifics of the permit.
Controversy erupted earlier this summer after reports that BLM was demanding the festival build a new compound for agency "VIPs" with "flushing toilets to be cleaned daily by Burning Man staff, a laundry with washers and dryers, on-demand hot water, air conditioning, vanity mirrors, refrigerators and couches."
That prompted Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to write to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, saying part of the festival’s philosophy is "living with the elements" and calling BLM’s demands "outlandishly unnecessary" (Greenwire, June 29).
BLM had called its requests reasonable, particularly after a 29-year-old woman was struck and killed by a vehicle in the early-morning hours during the 2014 festival, highlighting the need for robust security. But after coming under fire, the agency agreed to reconsider its demands (E&ENews PM, June 29).
And last month, BLM released a letter raising concerns about health and safety issues, noting that it wouldn’t issue a permit until problems flagged after last year’s event had been addressed. BLM called for medical, transportation and security improvements after more than 2,000 people required medical treatment last year for problems including drug overdoses, trauma incidents and alcohol poisoning (Greenwire, July 9).
Event organizers and BLM officials agreed to eliminate a proposed second BLM facility, the festival’s website says, and BLM will use the same catering contractor as Burning Man.
"We’ve made tremendous progress over the past six weeks to agree on common sense solutions that meet BLM’s needs and ensure the health and safety of those supporting and participating in the Burning Man event," Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell said in a statement. "That being said, there’s an important amount of work to do after the 2015 event. We’re all committed to further discussion regarding the permitor-permittee relationship and what is required for BLM to properly administer the permit."
BLM’s acting Nevada state director, John Ruhs, said in a statement that throughout the process, BLM’s priority "has always been to ensure the health and safety of the participants, volunteers and staff while on the playa. By working together, we’ve arrived at a common sense, cost-efficient plan that meets our core operational needs and paves the way forward for a successful event."
Burning Man agreed under the permit to cap attendance at 70,000 at this year’s event. The annual event — started in 1986 on a San Francisco beach — has attracted more than 50,000 visitors each year since 2010, according to organizers.
During the event, Black Rock City becomes Nevada’s sixth-largest city, according to BLM. Event operations occupy about 4,400 acres of public land for seven weeks, from preparations in mid-August until final cleanup in early October.