Guy Farmer: Feeling sorry for Burning Man ... again

Once again, I’m feeling sorry for the affluent organizers of Burning Man because their co-conspirator and landlord, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, won’t let the Burners do anything and everything they want to do, and even wants them to pay the expenses of putting on a huge naked drug festival on Northern Nevada public lands.

So the poor, downtrodden, “nonprofit” Burning Man organization, which grosses more than $40 million (nearly $44 million in 2018) on their annual bacchanal in a National Conservation Area within Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, has sued the BLM for “overcharging” them in fees over the past seven years. That’s why I’m feeling sorry for the money-grubbing, Bay Area-based Burner hierarchy. Boo hoo.

According to the Reno Gazette Journal, the Burners “are tired of waiting over the past four years for the Bureau to provide justification for nearly $3 million it charges annually for a permit to hold the 80,000-person event in the Black Rock Desert.” Let’s see, $3 million is about 7.5 percent of $40 million, so I’d say the Burners are getting a pretty good deal from their federal landlords.

But the Burners don’t think they’re getting a good deal from the feds and the taxpayers, who own that federally protected land. “This (the lawsuit) is our attempt to break this cycle,” Burner spokesperson Megan Miller told the RGJ in an email. She explained that the Bay Area organization is seeking “relief from defendants’ ongoing unlawful and prejudicial conduct... that threatens the viability of the iconic Burning Man event” and complained that Burners have “been required to reimburse BLM for services and expenses,” including law enforcement at an event that’s literally awash in illegal drugs. Just ask those law enforcement folks, as I’ve done through the years.

Pay no attention to self-serving Burner literature that discourages drug use. Anyone who has attended the X-rated event – I know several veteran Burners – will tell you that illegal drugs are readily available out there on the playa. In fact, if you’re a wealthy techie from Silicon Valley or Seattle you can pay $20,000, more or less, for a “sherpa” who will bring you anything you want (use your imagination) at 3 a.m. Said sherpa will deliver the goods to your air-conditioned trailer whenever you want them, 24/7. Apparently, that’s the Burners’ new definition for “radical self-reliance.”

Do you think the Burner hierarchy hired Nevada lawyers to file their lawsuit? Of course not. They hired a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm to fight their battle for them even though there are many Nevada attorneys who know a lot about the BLM. According to the lawsuit, Black Rock City LLC has filed six appeals challenging what it deems “excessive and unjustified costs.”

The RGJ added, helpfully, that event organizers – who rake in tens of millions of dollars (my comment) – feel that BLM “has been mistreating the nonprofit.” Some nonprofit! The lawsuit alleges that BLM’s “abusive pattern and practice” may force them to cancel the event, which generates millions of dollars for the Northern Nevada economy. Well, boo hoo all over again. So much for Burning Man. Happy New Year!

Farewell to fellow journalists

Two of my closest friends in the journalistic world passed away last month, former Associated Press Reno correspondent Dwight Dyer, who was my mentor when I first came to Carson in 1962, and my longtime debate partner and lunch buddy Sam Bauman, who wrote popular ski and senior columns for the Appeal. Dwight, 88, passed away in Alexandria, Virginia, and Sam, 92, in Minneapolis. I’ll miss them.

Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.


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