Posted By Jeremy Lybarger
Every summer brings new epitaphs and manifestos for Burning Man, and 2015 has been no exception. First came the debut of Burner Air, a boutique luxury airline that will ferry deep-pocketed passengers to the Black Rock desert (chartering an entire plane for a one-way flight costs little more than a facelift).
Now comes a standoff between festival organizers and the Bureau of Land Management. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported last week that BLM officials have requested a special camp for high-ranking agency officials that includes flush toilets, air conditioning, washers and dryers, refrigerators, couches, and vanity mirrors.
“A lot of folks think we’re like participants in that we are out there to enjoy the event and party,” the BLM’s Winnemucca district manager Gene Seidlitz told the Gazette-Journal. “But my staff and I have to be rested, well-nourished and accommodated to the bare minimum so we can ensure health, security and safety at the event.”
The “bare minimum” apparently means “a 24-hour service bar that includes, but is not limited to, Choco Tacos, Chobani yogurt…chilled 100% fruit juice…sirloin steaks and ribeye during hot meals.” The Gazette-Journal also reports that BLM officials expect Burning Man personnel to clean the specially installed flush toilets daily.
Per the Gazette-Journal, one BLM official likened the projected camp to those built for soldiers in Afghanistan, to which Jim Graham, a Burning Man spokesman, replied, “Burning Man is not Afghanistan.”
Fifteen to 20 BLM officials are expected at Burning Man this year. In the past, they lodged at motels in the nearby town of Gerlach, but Burning Man’s massive crowds have made a BLM presence at the festival more urgent.
Burning Man organizers say that constructing a tony camp for BLM agents would cost about $1 million, bringing the event’s total permit fee to an unprecedented $5 million. The BLM has not yet issued a permit for this year’s festival, which makes the business of negotiating an agency crashpad all the more delicate.
Nevada senator Harry Reid sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on Friday that questioned the BLM’s “unprecedented and extravagant requests.”
While I agree that the BLM should take its permitting duties seriously and work with Burning Man to both guarantee the safety of its participants and the protection of the environment, providing outlandishly unnecessary facilities for the BLM and its guests should be beyond the scope of the permitting requirements. Part of Burning Man’s philosophy is self-reliance and living with the elements is part of the experience. Flush toilets and laundry facilities can be found about ten miles away in Gerlach, Nevada, if BLM’s employees need such amenities.
Not surprisingly, festivalgoers are lampooning the BLM’s requests on Burner forums and on the Burning Man subreddit. On Burn.Life, a blog about the festival, the BLM’s request is compared to Van Halen’s 1982 backstage concert rider, which infamously banned brown M&M’s from the dressing room.
“A famously indulgent rock band has requirements easier to fulfill than the BLM does. Seems pretty screwed up doesn’t it?” the aghast blogger wrote.
A Change.org petition calling for the BLM to issue a festival permit without “outlandish requirements” has also surfaced and already boasts 816 supporters.
Meanwhile, on Reddit, threads with titles like “BLM Demands Burning Man Provide 24-hour Access to Ice Cream” and “Gifting Idea: Choco Taco” have also appeared. One Redditor compared the BLM’s latest camp request to the Black Rock Station the agency constructed in 2011. Built for $3.5 million, the station serves as a “gateway” to the Black Rock desert and includes a “fire engine building, bunkhouse, warehouse and small administrative office.”
It likely does not include Choco Tacos.