Jenny Kane at the Reno Gazette-Journal breaks an exclusive story “BLM Wants VIP Compound at Burning Man” . It’s about the unprecedented, eyebrow-raising last minute demands from the Bureau of Land Management, which need to be met before a permit for this year’s event can be issued.
That’s right, Burning Man starts in about 60 days, but the permit has not been issued yet. No permit, no event. The negotiation stakes are high, and the big guns are being shown at the table.
Some have speculated that the permit may be held up this year due to complications with festival stalwart CrowdRX taking over the medical responsibilities from proven local team Humboldt General Hospital. Whether that is a real issue or not, the latest problem that needs to be settled before the permit gets issued is this: VIPs need ceramic toilets, goddam it!
Read the full story and watch the video at the Reno Gazette Journal. Emphasis is ours.
The largest event on Federal land is turning into quite the luxury camping adventure for the hundreds of government workers paid to go to Burning Man.
BLM officials contend that their staff can no longer stay in the “primitive” accommodations available in Gerlach, which is about 20 minutes from the event location.
“We’re very concerned about where we put people that are part of our staff and that are part of the support and permitting,” said BLM Winnemucca District Manager Gene Seidlitz.
Recently the BLM spent $3 million building these so-called primitive Gerlach accommodations, which feature hot and cold running water, flushing toilets, refrigerators, and other amenities. These are no longer sufficient for the $30 million+, 70,000 person billionaire’s safari experience that is Burning Man 2.0. Perhaps we should be glad that they’re not asking to spend the $1.2 million on facial recognition technologies and x-ray vision that can see through tent and RV walls…or maybe they already did that…
The BLM already gets $3.5-4 million in fees from Burning Man for the annual permit, as well as a 3% cut of the gross revenues of any of the 100+ vendors out there every year.
BLM fees from Burning Man
2012: $1.4 million
2013: $2.9 million
2014: $4 million
2015: About $5 million.
BMOrg convinced a BLM Director to come across to the corporate world and lobby for them. Now it seems that the BLM are demanding perks. More perks.
Details of the request were included in an email exchange obtained by the RGJ between a Burning Man official and Bob Abbey, the former BLM director who is now a consultant for Burning Man organizers.
“Having been a career BLM employee, I expect agency employees to behave competently and professionally in their interactions with the public,” Abbey said in his email. “I don’t see these traits being applied in their dealings with (Black Rock City).”
The proposed layout of the camp, published by the RGJ, shows 8 double VIP rooms. So as many as 16 unnamed VIPs are coming. Could this have anything to do with BMOrg’s recent trip to Washington DC? They were there to meet with bigwigs in the BLM, Department of the Interior, and State and Federal Government representatives.
BLM Winnemucca manager Gene Seidlitz seems to think so:
As to who will be included in the VIP crew making its way to Burning Man this year, Seidlitz said that he likely will not know until the day of the event.
“Right now, I don’t have the exact names. But there are those in upper leadership at the state level of BLM and the national level of BLM,” Seidlitz said. “Based on the issues and concerns of last year, it does have the interest of the Department of Interior.”
Seidlitz said that Washington, D.C., officials are concerned about upholding the standards of the “American public” and they will be coordinating visits to Burning Man while making other stops in the West.
“Burning Man is on everyone’s list. They come out to see the event, and to meet with everyone from BLM
Yep, it’s on everybody’s bucket list now. Great. Swell. Neato.
The VIPs don’t have to participate very long. They can just come, get in a couple of quick rounds of Burner Bingo, enjoy the spectacle put on for them by the freaks, then be on their merry way.
None of the VIPs will be staying the entire period that the Blue Pit compound will be set up, from Aug. 27 through Sept. 11. Many will be popping in for a day, maybe a half-day, Seidlitz said.
Special Agent Love is the bloke responsible, says the RGJ. Is this from Love, or above? Who is next up the chain of command? It definitely isn’t Harry Reid.
BLM Special Agent Dan Love of Salt Lake City was cited multiple times as the person behind many of the BLM requests, according to the emails. He did not return requests for comment. Love also led the BLM operation against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy that ended in a standoff with Bundy’s armed supporters.
Is this really just coming out of the blue from the local team, who have all been working with BMOrg for decades? Perhaps they suddenly decided that if the Founders are handing the reins of Burning Man over to a new non-profit – while they and their Directors and staff are staying in luxury camps that have all these amenities – that maybe it’s time for the BLM boys to retire and enjoy the good life too. Maybe – but that still doesn’t explain the mysterious VIP units. They also have 4 private medical units in the VIP compound. What sort of contingencies are they preparing for?
It’s worth noting that the “Blue Pit” – the name for the BLM’s Caravansicle – is not even at Burning Man.
The VIP encampment, called the Blue Pit, is a new request this year. It is in addition to the more bare-bones accommodations for the employees who will be staying at the BLM’s headquarters, which houses up to 150 working staff during the main event.
That’s 1 BLM agent for every 453 Burners. And this is in addition to the Pershing County Sheriff’s department, and other agencies such as the FBI and DEA. These 150 staff are already styling, compared to most Burners who are forced to use Radical Self Reliance, Participation, and Leave No Trace:
The headquarters also are expected to have trailers with flushable toilets and sinks, though no showers or washers and dryers are requested. The headquarters will be located at the end of the 12-mile playa entry road, 12 miles north of Gerlach. The Blue Pit compound is about two miles past the playa on County Road 34 near an old gravel pit.
The RGJ obtained a number of documents, including this brochure of the bathtroom units. No port-a-potties for these guys.
This is the layout of the “Blue Pit”. It does not say where the stripper poles are located, that is left up to your imagination.
The BLM says that they are concerned about safety after the tragic death of a Burner last year, and that extra security people need to come now to assess things.
The request, unprecedented in Burning Man’s history, has turned into a point of contention as organizers negotiate with the agency for their annual permit to stage the event in the Black Rock Desert. No permit has been issued for this year’s event, which runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 7. Typically permits are issued in early August.
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. “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,“
Look, I fully support officers of the law and servants of our Federal government working in nice conditions and safety. We Burners pay several million dollars a year for their “services”. It’s for a week, not life. Surely they can find cops from around the world who would volunteer to come to Burning Man for free and take care of their own accommodation? Or, spend their own budget on this stuff. Don’t make Burners pay even more – because you know that is what BMOrg is going to do. They won’t be eating this expense themselves – that’s why we have this latest “leak the email chain to the media” move. Permit be damned! We’ve got Harry Reid!
Except that Harry has retired recently. Maybe no-one got that memo. Still, Harry’s written a strongly worded letter to the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell – is she on the list for 2015?
Reid wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, an avid outdoorswoman and former head of REI, saying the BLM needs to get over itself about asking for flushing toilets and other amenities. The BLM is in charge of permitting the annual event, which takes place this year from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7.
“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,” Reid wrote, noting that he was an author of the legislation that designated the area a federally protected space. [Source: Roll Call]
The RGJ has published the full rider here. Some readers have had problems accessing this story due to the RGJ’s login system. I have reproduced the rider below, presumably this is public information and not some sort of classified state secret. RGJ have filed FOIA requests for more information and we will bring you updates to this story if we hear anything more.
[Update 6/28/15 8:38am PST]
Thanks to our reader A Balanced Perspective for providing links to the documentation for BLM’s existing facilities, which opened in 2011 at a cost of $3.5 million – or about a year’s worth of Burning Man’s annual fee payments to them.
From the BLM press release:
Black Rock Station was constructed utilizing almost $ 3.5 million authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. The contract provided jobs for about 50 construction workers over a 10-month period, which helped the local economy by making purchases at the local restaurant, gas station and motel…
The facility will be open seasonally from March through November and will be staffed by BLM personnel. A BLM fire crew will operate out of the facility from July to September.
[Update 6/28/15 4:40 pm PST]
Reader Grey Coyote has alerted us to some online ill-will towards BLM Special Agent Dan Love, who ran the failed Bundy Ranch standoff operation last year.
Meanwhile, the BLM have disputed the $1 million cost for the Blue Pit Compound, saying that the event’s organizers are exaggerating.
[Update 6/29/15 8:26am]
Fox News has picked up the story, with further quotes from the BLM. They’re now saying the $1 million cost estimate is “robustly exaggerated”
Burning Man organizers have refused the request, saying amenities such as flush toilets, washers and dryers, showers, air conditioning and refrigerators at the bureau’s on-site camp in the Black Rock Desert would cost $1 million and hike its permit fees to about $5 million.
Gene Seidlitz, the bureau’s Winnemucca district manager, said Sunday that the cost of the portable units is being “robustly exaggerated” by organizers. The compound will offer basic amenities only for top agency officials who oversee the quirky art and music festival event held on public land the week leading up to Labor Day, he said.
The number of Bureau of Land Management personnel on hand at the festival has doubled to 160 over the last five years as the peak crowd size has soared to nearly 70,000, he said, and the bureau has run out of places around the nearby town of Gerlach, Nevada, to house employees. Most of the agency’s employees stay at a motel or rental properties in the tiny town.
“A lot of folks think we’re like participants in that we are out there to enjoy the event and party,” Seidlitz 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.”
Organizers stand by their cost estimates for the amenities and their position that bureau fee increases have outstripped the festival’s crowd growth significantly in recent years, spokesman Jim Graham said.
For example, he said, the crowd for this year’s event is expected to grow by only 2,000 participants over last year, yet the agency’s infrastructure costs will climb by roughly $500,000 to $1 million.
“They include construction of an entirely new facility, and we maintain they have not considered more cost-effective alternatives,” Graham said in a statement. “We look forward to working with BLM on solutions that meet everyone’s needs.”
[Source: Fox News]
I’m inclined to agree. The “million dollar compound” seems to be coming from BMOrg, rather than BLM saying “give us another million”.
If you’ve ever built your own camp, you understand that it doesn’t cost $1 million to rent 10 trailers and 12 containers for a week. However, if your experience of Burning Man is limited to plug-n-play accommodations like Caravancicle and First Camp, with an army of thousands of volunteer and paid workers to do your bidding, it might be harder for you to keep in touch with real world expenses.
As for the Bureau fee increases outstripping the festival’s growth, 5 years ago Burning Man’s ticket revenues were $13.5 million and this year we estimate them at $30.5 million, an increase of $2 million+ just from 2014. 2010 attendance was 51,454; this year 68,000 tickets have been sold to paying participants (as well as another 3000 or so volunteers, and a few thousand children who get in free). This represents a population increase of at least 32%. Part of the BLM fees relate to Outside Services Vendors, and there are now more than a hundred of those.
This issue has now gone to the Bureau of Land Management’s Washington DC spokesman. The food requests are identical to last year’s rider, and apparently the Blue Pit Compound is “not really for VIPs” – those containers labelled “VIP containers” in the map should really have said “high level officials containers”. These officials will be roughing it like they’ve been deployed to a war zone.
Seidlitz acknowledged the bureau erred by billing the encampment as a place to house VIPs. Actually, it would only be for 15 to 20 top state and national Bureau of Land Management officials charged with ensuring safety and security and environmental compliance at the festival, he said.
“When you hear ‘VIP,’ it’s like they’re coming out on the government dime and bringing out friends,” he said. “But I have nowhere to put these senior leaders for a good night’s rest. They come out to interact … and ensure what I’m doing is meeting their intent.”
Most will spend no more than a couple of days at the festival, and the compound would save time because of its location only a mile from the festival and not 15 miles away in Gerlach, he added.
The amenities are similar to what the military provides soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what federal agencies offer crews fighting wildfires, bureau officials said.
The bureau also is asking organizers to provide them mandatory food items for three meals a day and snacks during the festival. The food choices are identical to those provided under a contract with organizers last year, said bureau spokesman Craig Leff in Washington, D.C.
“We have every expectation that these issues will be resolved,” he said. “We have very good working relations with (organizers), and we want to continue to have good relations. We’re working hard with them to finalize the permit for this year’s event.”
[Source: Fox News]
Sounds like someone in DC has been told “fix this”…
U.S. Representative Mark Amodei, a Republican representing the part of Nevada where the festival is held, said in a phone interview the requests raised ethical questions and appeared to demand “the Black Rock Desert version of the Four Seasons hotel.” [Source: Reuters]
Burning Man officials stood by their estimates of the BLM requests on Sunday. The organization has asked for an official response from the BLM by Monday, according to a letter from Burning Man addressed to Seidlitz.
“We stand by our estimates to accomplish what the BLM has required in the statements of work,” Jim Graham, Burning Man spokesman, said in an email Sunday to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
“They were submitted well into our production cycle for this year’s event, they include construction of an entirely new facility, and we maintain they have not considered more cost-effective alternatives. We look forward to working with BLM on solutions that meet everyone’s needs.”
Graham also questioned a comparison made by a federal BLM spokesman in the RGJ report that likened the amenities requested to those provided by the military to soldiers in Afghanistan.
“Burning Man is not Afghanistan,” Graham said.
[Update 6/29/15 1:27pm PST]
The BLM have said they are reviewing the request:
Update 12 p.m.: 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.”
[Update 6/29/15 3:31pm PST]
The LA Times said Harry Reid’s fuming:
The BLM — the Department of the Interior agency that oversees permitting for Burning Man — has reportedly asked for a VIP compound to house staff at the festival’s Black Rock Desert location before it issues a permit for this year’s event.
And that has made Reid angry. Withhold-gifts angry. Leave-a-trace angry. Burn-something-in-effigy angry.
Gotta love the LA Times. Using emotional language to make a dry story more entertaining, and rile up their readers a little while they’re at it.
At the Grateful Dead last night, the Burners from Playa Slumlord told me they only have a few nice trailers left. The BLM should just rent those for their
VIPs senior officials. They can park them at the Blue Pit if they like, but to really experience Burning Man on our Civic Responsibility public dime, we should encourage them to Participate Immediately and get amongst it! Especially if they’re only coming for one bingo day.
Bureau of Land Management: Burning Man Rider
Mandatory Items for Breakfast
• Butter and margarine, instant hot cereal, jelly or jam, peanut butter, salt, pepper, sugar, cream (or substitute). These items shall be individually packaged. Mustard, ketchup, steak sauce, salt and pepper shall be provided in approved dispensers or original bottles in the dining trailer area.
• Salsa, hot peppers, brown sugar and raisins or other dried fruit shall also be made available, in appropriate serving containers, not individually packaged.
Mandatory Items for Hot Lunch/ Dinners
• Butter and margarine, jelly or jam, peanut butter, mustard, ketchup, steak sauce, salt, pepper, sugar, cream (or substitute), tea and hot chocolate. These items shall be individually packaged. Mustard, ketchup, steak sauce, salt, and pepper and other large scale condiments shall be provided in approved dispensers or original bottles in the dining tent area.
• Salsa and hot peppers shall also be made available, in appropriate serving containers, not individually packaged.
• A variety of dessert will need to be served with each dinner.
• Salad bar should be available for both lunch and dinner.
Hot meals between scheduled meal hours (These items are only available during non-meal hours. Please see Attachment 3 for meal times and more details)
• Grilled Cheese Sandwich
• Deli Sandwiches
• Hot dogs
• Grilled chicken
• Chicken fingers
Mandatory items for 24 Hour Service Bar
• Hot Regular Brewed Coffee (regular and decaffeinated). Flavored coffee may be served in addition to regular coffee at the Contractor’s option.
• Hot Water
• Hot Chocolate
• Chilled 100% Fruit Juice
• Brewed Coffee
• Tea Bags (regular and decaffeinated)
• Cold Drinks (Coke Products)
• Iced Tea (regular and decaffeinated)
• Assortment of Dry Cereal (Golden Grahams, Fruit loops, Raisin Bran and 1 other flavor)
• Chobani Greek Yogurt
• Bread both white and wheat
• English muffins
• Milk – Both white and chocolate milk shall be available
• Milk alternative (almond, vanilla, and soy)
• Including but not limited to the following: Personal pizzas, Hot Pockets, burritos, noodle cups, M&Ms, Snickers, Payday, Skittles, licorice, jerky, meat and cheese snacks, cookies, brownies, protein bars, nuts, chips, popcorn, fresh fruit, apples, oranges, bananas, etc.
Ice Cream: This needs to be in a standalone freezer for ice cream available all day long
• Choco Taco
• Individual served ice cream assorted flavors
• Ice cream sandwiches
And here’s a list of meal suggestions by BLM:
• Eggs – 2 fresh eggs (3 when scrambled) or 6 oz. of liquid eggs (no egg product).
• Meat – 4 oz. (raw uncooked weight).
• Bread or Hot cakes or French toast or Waffles – or equivalent starch (equal to 3 (1 to 1½ oz.) slices of bread.
• Potatoes – 6 oz. or equivalent starch
• Fresh Fruit
• Muffin(s) or equivalent – 3 oz.
Lunch and Hot Dinners
• Steak -10 oz. (boneless) or 14 oz. (bone-in), or Beef – 10 oz. (boneless) or 14 oz. (bone-in), or
• Beef and Pork Ribs – 10 oz. (boneless) or 18 oz. (bone-in), or Pork – 10 oz. (boneless) or 14 oz. (bone-in),, or Poultry – 8 oz. (boneless) or 14 oz. (bone-in), or Ham – 8 oz. (boneless) or 12 oz. (bone-in), or Fish – 8 oz.
Non Meat Protein – 4 oz.
• Vegetables – 4 oz.
• Potatoes – 6 oz. or equivalent starch.
• Bread – Two 1 to 1½ oz. slices or equivalent starch.
• Dessert – 4 oz.
Self-Service Salad Bar shall contain:
• Five salad toppings
• One tossed green salad with equal amounts of three types of leafy vegetables
• Three types of salad dressings (regular and/or low/non-fat)
• Three salad condiments.
• Regular and vegetarian sack lunches shall be provided as ordered by AJ Ramos. Vegetarian sack lunches shall be prepared for the Ovo-Lacto vegetarian classification level and shall consist of the same quantities and items as regular sack lunches.
• Definition: Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian – This is the most common form of vegetarianism. Ovo-Lacto vegetarians do not eat meat, chicken, fish or flesh of any kind, but do eat eggs and dairy products. Sub categories are Ovo vegetarians that eat eggs but not dairy products, while Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs.
• NOTE: Pre-prepared sandwiches shall not be frozen. Sack lunches shall consist of the following items:
Entree 1 – One Meat Sandwich (or Sandwich with Non-meatSubstitute for Vegetarian)
• The sandwich shall be wrapped in plastic wrap or plastic bags.
• The sandwich shall contain two 1 to 1½ oz. slices of bread.
• The meat sandwich shall contain 3½ oz. sliced whole muscle meat or a combination of sliced whole muscle meat and cheese or equivalent vegetarian substitute.
• Appropriate individually packaged condiments shall be provided and not be put directly on the sandwich.
Entree 2 – Variety Item
• Fruit – The fruit shall be one apple or one orange or other fresh fruit of comparable size.
• Factory-Wrapped or Resealable Individually Wrapped Snack – Two (2) or more snacks with a combined minimum nutritional value of at least 600 calories. It is preferred that these snacks be high in complex carbohydrate content. All ingredients shall be identified and attached to the product for easy identification.
• Condiments – Four individual factory-wrapped packets of condiments appropriate for the entrees being served.
• Paper Napkin and Pre-Moistened Towelette
Menu items shall provide variety on a daily basis as to the types of meat and bread used in sandwiches, other sack lunch entrees, snacks, juices and other meal items served. Menus may include a wide variety of recipes. The following are examples of variety options.
• Steaks – rib, loin, T-bone, New York, sirloin, cubed, filet and pepper steak.
• Roast – Prime rib and sliced roast.
• Short Ribs – baked, broiled and barbecued.
• Ground Beef – lasagna, meat loaf, meatballs in spaghetti sauce and ground beef patties.
• Chops – loin cut, spare-ribs, country style ribs and barbecued.
• Roast – sliced and tenderloin.
• Ham – sliced.
• Chops – grilled and barbecued.
• Roast – sliced.
• Sliced, or whole pieces or parts (such as breast, thigh or leg).
• Fish – grilled, baked fillets or steaks.
• Processed Meat Items – pastrami, Polish/Italian sausage and corned beef.
• Breakfast Meat – ham, bacon, sausage, steak and pork chops.
• Eggs – Fried, hard-boiled, poached, omelets or scrambled.
• Bread and Equivalent Starches – wheat, white, 7-grain, rye, pumpernickel, French, garlic, biscuits, muffins, rolls, croissants, bagels, cornbread, donuts, sourdough, tortilla and pita pocket.
• Dry Cereal – Varieties of flaked, toasted, or baked cold cereals and granola.
• Hot Cereal – Oatmeal or grits, Cream of Wheat®, etc.
• Fruit – oranges, tangerines, apples, bananas, grapes, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines, grapefruit, or melons.
• Dried Fruit – apricots, cherries, dates, mango, pineapple, pears, banana chips, peaches, prunes, raisins or other dried fruit.
• Vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, corn, peas, green beans, mixed vegetables, etc.
• Non Meat Protein – BBQ beans, vegetarian patty, vegetarian hot dog, Tofu, beans, soybean product, bean burritos, peanut butter, cheese, tempeh, quinoa, hummus.
• Potatoes and Equivalent Starches – baked, mashed, fried, boiled, scalloped, rice, stuffing, pasta, sweet potatoes, or yams.
• Juice – orange, tomato, grape, V8type, apple, cranberry, or pineapple.
• Sandwich Meat and/or Cheese – ham, corned beef, roast beef, turkey, pork, beef pastrami, chicken, cheddar, Swiss, or other natural cheese, excluding American processed cheese.
• Salad Toppings – kidney, garbanzo or pinto beans; carrots, mushrooms, celery, cauliflower, green/red bell peppers, broccoli, cheese, cottage cheese, beets, peas, tomatoes, eggs, cucumbers.
• Prepared Salads – macaroni, carrot and raisin, potato, pea, gelatin, coleslaw, fruit, rice or pasta salads.
• Tossed Salad Greens – romaine, endive, iceberg, green leaf, red leaf, butter, spinach, or cabbage.
• Fruit – melons, peaches, grapes, bananas, strawberries, pears, applesauce or seasonal fruit.
• Salad Dressings – regular and low/non-fat French, Ranch, Italian, vinaigrette, Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, etc.
• Salad Condiments – croutons, wheat nuts, sunflower seeds, crackers and taco chips, bread sticks, olives, pickles, or other fresh pickled or marinated vegetables.
• Dessert – cakes, cookies, pies, cobblers, puddings, pastries or ice cream.
• Tea – black, herbal, green, and spiced. Flavored tea may be served in addition to regular tea at the Contractor’s option
• Milk – white, (Whole, 2%, Skim), and Chocolate.
• Milk alternative
• Snack Varieties – Candy bars, bagged candy, trail mix, cookies, and brownies. Granola bars, energy bars, fresh vegetables, pretzels, shelled nuts. Factory packaged meats such as dried meats, sausage, pepperoni, jerky, etc., are acceptable. Processed cheese and cheese food products are allowed for this item only. The Government retains its full right to reject any product offered under this paragraph if the quality of the product is rejected by users. For variety two different products shall be used each day.