While there’s supposedly “no commerce” at Burning Man, the federal Bureau of Land Management has treated the annual event as quite a cash cow. Now Burning Man is hauling the BLM to court to court because of it.
It has long been a complicated dance between the Burning Man event and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that has jurisdiction over the Black Rock Desert in which the annual bacchanalia is held. The two organizations frankly need each other — Burning Man needs an enormous outdoor space at which to hold the event, and the BLM has come to enjoy the millions in revenue the event is required to pay them. The BLM essentially charges Burning Man to recoup the costs of officers, oversight, and services. But the BLM has been quietly jacking up these costs each of the last seven years, apparently with little documentation or explanation, despite the event itself not growing at nearly the same rate.
After filing six appeals over the last four years to the BLM’s Interior Board of Appeals, and getting no satisfactory response or information, the Reno Gazette Journal reports that Burning Man is suing the BLM and Department of Interior to get some of those millions of dollars back.
"This abusive pattern and practice results in an administrative 'Hobson's choice' for (Black Rock City, LLC) to either accept BLM's charges and conditions, however unreasonable, or cancel the already-scheduled Burning Man event," the Burning Man organization says in their lawsuit. While monetary damages are not detailed, the lawsuit asks for “relief from defendants' ongoing, unlawful and prejudicial conduct towards (Black Rock City LLC) that threatens the viability of the iconic Burning Man event."
Last June, the Black Rock City, LLC organization retained a high-powered Washington, DC lobbying and law firm conglomerate Holland and Knight to help tussle with the feds and their mounting fees and restrictions. According to The Hill, one of their lead lobbyists is Scott Mason, “who worked on Trump’s campaign and in his administration transition.”
This matter is unrelated to last year’s controversial drug screening of Burners BLM demand, which was part of renewing the event’s ten-year plan at the Black Rock Desert. That’s a forward-looking dispute, whereas this is one is just the Burners trying to claw back past charges. Those charges have increased by 291 percent over the last three years, according to the lawsuit, despite an attendance increase of only 14 percent over the same period. (Burning Man increased its attendance limit from 70,000 to 80,000 in 2017.)
Burning Man is still going to happen in 2020. While the official Burning Man ticket page has no 2020 information at this time (and that generally comes early in the year in question) they have announced their 2020 theme. And considering how much the two parties need each other, consider this lawsuit a step in negotiations that are quite likely to be resolved.
Image: ImNotQuiteJack via Flickr