For almost thirty years organizers have staged the Burning Man festival, starting off on the beaches of San Francisco and then out to the desert in northern Nevada. It’s akin to the Woodstock festival, focusing on both art and music where “radical self expression” meets “radical self-reliance” to form an intentional but temporary community. The use of the desert emphasizes the self-reliance, but it also requires Burning Man to get permits from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Organizers wanted to move the festival to a larger area thanks to its growing popularity, and BLM said, sure — as long as Burning Man builds them a compound for BLM staffers with washers, dryers, and an endless supply of food (via The Hill).
The BLM really isn’t into the whole self-reliance thing, huh?
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is asking Burning Man organizers to build a separate compound with amenities such as flushing toilets, washers and dryers, and 24-hour access to ice cream for government officials staying in Black Rock City.
A Burning Man spokesman estimated the compound would cost the event more than $1 million, bringing its 2015 permit fees to about $5 million. The renderings of the compound obtained by the RGJ show various accommodations set aside for VIP visitors but don’t indicate who the visiting dignitaries will be. …
Burning Man has refused to comply with the BLM’s request, which the federal agency submitted on June 1, according to Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham. In its response, Burning Man gave the BLM until Monday to set a meeting to hash out their differences.
“We want to work this out. We’re getting close to the event, but we feel that there are more common-sense and cost-effective solutions,” Graham said.
Maybe some of the BLM officials involved in this went to Woodstock and partook of the brown acid. The permit process exists to ensure fair access and responsible use of public land, not to build a Hilton Resort Hotel for bureaucrats as a prerequisite for citizens to conduct their events. The meals suggested by BLM officials in their permit demand included sirloin steak and prime rib along with the aforementioned 24-hour supply of ice cream. The attendees, meanwhile, get very little in the way of amenities as part of the event’s design. About the only nod to human comfort supplied by organizers are Port-a-Potties.
That would have created quite a contrast, and an instructive one. While Burning Man attendees celebrated minimalism along with their art and music, they would have had to build a palace for their overlords. That speaks volumes about the impulse of bureaucracies, and how the people who run them see their relationship to the rest of the country.
That contrast proved embarrassing enough that the BLM hit retreat yesterday, after both Republicans and Democrats from Nevada blasted the agency. That doesn’t mean that anything will change, though:
BLM Deputy Director Steve Ellis issued the following statement Monday:
“I am concerned about the reported costs associated with supporting the Burning Man festival. I have directed that BLM staff take a fresh look at the initial proposals for food and facilities at the event. Our priority is to provide for participant and employee health and safety, sanitation and environmental compliance at this unique event that is attended by up to 80,000 people in a remote part of the Nevada desert. I have full confidence in BLM staff and their ability to develop a plan that is cost efficient and ensures public health and safety.”
The Reno Gazette-Journal does some naming and shaming, and exposes the threat behind the demand:
Emails between Burning Man organizers and a consultant, former BLM Director Bob Abbey, suggested that BLM Special Agent Dan Love was behind many of the requests this year.
Abbey stated that Love and BLM Winnemucca District Director Gene Seidlitz would continue their strategy of “threatening your permit until you agree to everything,” Abbey wrote to Burning Man organizers. Neither Love nor Seidlitz returned calls Monday.
Burning Man doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but neither does strong-arming citizens for the use of public land as an excuse to pamper a bunch of public servants. Perhaps this part of radical self-reliance will rub off on BLM officials — and maybe it will prove instructive for those who see government as a solution to everything, especially land management.
Update: Fixed first reference to the BLM, thanks to my friend Olivier Knox, Freelance Editor At Large.