Burning Man — the annual week-long art and geeks-running-around-naked festival — begins tomorrow in the Black Rock Desert, but with a decidedly down-to-earth lawsuit hanging over its ethereal head.
The organizers of the Nevada event sued Pershing County last week in federal court over what it characterized as a “drastic increase in fees.”
“For more than 20 years, the Burning Man community has proudly made northern Nevada its home, providing millions of dollars annually to the local economy,” said Larry Harvey of San Francisco-based Black Rock City LLC, which runs the more than 20-year-old event, in a statement. “We love Nevada. Unfortunately, Pershing County is making it difficult to continue doing business here. We intend to resolve this matter through reasonable means and work collaboratively with Nevadans to keep our business in the state.”
The county’s lawyers disagreed, noting in a statement: “Without giving an overall context to the information provided, Black Rock City LLC attempts to portray motivations that simply did not and do not exist. … The residents of Pershing County should not be required to flip the bill for the business conducted by a ($20 million plus) business.”
Burning Man is now held on public land, managed by the U.S. government’s Bureau of Land Management, to which it pays a $1.5 million fee. But, no surprise, Burning Man requires a lot of local help.
Organizers said they have paid their dues to Pershing County over the years and have also give even more to local charities, while the influx of an expected 60,000 people adds $15 million in spending to the rural community’s economy.
After paying a higher fee for 2011, though, BRC said that Pershing County wanted more this year — $400,000, compared to last year’s $175,000 payment to the county, largely for additional law enforcement costs.
BRC is taking issue with a new ordinance that will boost the expected 2013 fee to upward of $600,000 and more than $1 million after that.
“It is wrong for the county to bully us in an attempt to balance its books,” said Harvey about the lawsuit, which will not impact this year’s event. “We are being treated like a piggy bank. We do not think that this government or any government has the right to do this.”
Countered the county last week: “While Black Rock City, LLC wants to portray the event as a fairytale land in their public relations, they fail to mention serious crimes that have occurred in the past and are expected to occur in the future.”
Sounds messy, but the show will still go on — Burning Man’s art theme this year is Fertility 2.0.