The Bureau of Land Management is under fire for asking a bunch of rich hippies for air conditioning and some flushing toilets.
Bohemian arts bacchanalia Burning Man has become an annual pilgrimage of people looking to get wasted and wild—especially, of late, the upper-crust types. Last year it was widely reported that the tech industry’s nouveau riche view the dusty destination as a combination of spiritual spring break and a penis measuring contest, with mind-blowing “rustic camps” featuring more comforts than the everyman’s model home would ever be able to achieve.
With 70,000 visitors paying between $390 and $800 each set to converge on public land to create the ephemeral Black Rock City, Nevada, this summer, the BLM—which issues the permits for the event and oversees it—have requested additional funds from the festival to construct special facilities for their agents. Burning Man organizers are balking at the request, saying it would drive their permitting costs to $5 million and includes unnecessarily extravagances. And now Nevada Senator Harry Reid is stepping in to defend the counterculture carnival’s cash, which he claims brings $35 million annually to his home turf.
“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,” he wrote in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on Friday, “providing outlandishly unnecessary facilities for the BLM and its guests should be beyond the scope of the permitting requirements.”
The BLM has defended their request, saying that they have to bring in 160 agents to oversee the throngs of half-naked dancing revelers in what will be, for a short time, the sixth-largest city in the state. They claim that all nearby housing—from hotels to short-term rentals—has been exhausted in the tiny neighboring town of Gerlach, which boasts a bustling year-round population of 206.
“A lot of folks think we’re like participants in that we are out there to enjoy the event and party,” Gene Seidlitz, the Bureau’s Winnemucca district manager, told The Associated Press. “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 so-called luxury items included in their request are air conditioning, showers, flushing toilets, washers and dryers, and refrigerators, which festival organizers say would double their infrastructure costs. While most of the “burners,” as festival attendees call themselves, exist in relatively primitive conditions during their stay (at least the non-billionaire ones), why should the federal agents employed to make sure our public land is protected have to do the same? Additionally, Gerlach is several miles from Black Rock City’s temporary territory, and the location the BLM is looking to relocated to is just one mile away.
Seidlitz says the festival and Reed’s description of their requested digs are “grossly exaggerated.”
Burning Man’s PR guy doesn’t agree.
“They include construction of an entirely new facility, and we maintain they have not considered more cost-effective alternatives,” spokesman Jim Graham said in a statement. “We look forward to working with BLM on solutions that meet everyone’s needs.”
It’s diplomatically worded, but perhaps it should be: no permit has yet been issued for this year’s event, which is scheduled to take place August 30 to September 7. Permits are generally granted in the beginning of August.