Last year Burning Man sold more tickets than the permit allows – 3,963 more. Their explanation was that people leave during the event, and the permit is for the total number of people who are there at any given time.
It seems like this explanation didn’t wash with the Bureau of Land Management, and Burning Man has now been put on probation for having crowds larger than 53,000 on September 2 and 3, 2011.
BRC was issued a notice of noncompliance decision for exceeding the daily population cap of 50,000 allowed under terms of its special recreation permit for the weeklong celebration of radical self-expression leading up to Labor Day, said Gene Seidlitz, manager of the BLM’s Winnemucca Field Office
If they are on probation 2 years in a row, the event may be cancelled.
If organizers are placed on probation two straight years, Seidlitz warned, the agency may suspend or cancel Burning Man’s permit and/or deny future permit applications.
He said it’s important that organizers stay within the population cap because planning for law enforcement, sanitation and other services needed for the festival is based on that figure.
“It’s a huge liability for BLM to ensure we have enough staff in place to do monitoring and logistical support, and for law enforcement to handle that number of participants so it’s safe and secure and everyone can enjoy it,” Seidlitz told The Associated Press.
Seidlitz said Burning Man’s probationary status does not jeopardize this year’s event. His agency issues special recreation permits for the event on an annual basis, and has yet to grant one for this year.
The probationary status also will not delay the BLM’s action on an environmental assessment concerning the effect of BRC’s request to gradually increase the festival’s daily population cap to 70,000 over the next five years, he said. A decision is expected by early June.
Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell declined to comment because the matter is pending.
But in a February interview, she said organizers interpreted last year’s special recreation permit to allow “in the neighborhood” of 58,000 people to be present at any one time.
“Their (BLM) comfort level is a little too conservative,” Goodell said at the time. “BLM should be giving us the breathing room to be able to produce the event safely.
How does the BLM count the difference between 50,000, and 53,963? At the gate is difficult, because multiple people are in each vehicle. Perhaps they count people leaving during the week, and subtract that from the total number of ticket sales.
[UPDATE 5/2/2012 –
“Probationary status limits the Bureau of Land Management to issuance of a one-year permit,” said Cory Roegner, who oversees the event from BLM’s Winnemucca office. His office put BRC on probation after it reported populations of 53,341 on Sept. 2 and 53,735 on Sept. 3, although BRC has appealed the ruling to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which has not issued a ruling.
…This places BRC in a precarious position given that it has already sold 57,000 tickets for this year’s event and will be giving away thousands more to staff, groups that have received art grants, and a host of other visitors and VIPs (last year, three members of the Board of Supervisors attended and Mayor Ed Lee is rumored to be mulling a trip this year).
Roegner and his boss at the BLM, Rolando Mendez, say it’s up to BRC to live by its permit. “Black Rock City LLC is free to sell as many tickets as they’re inclined to,” Mendez told us in February. “That’s a calculated business decision on their part, but I would expect Black Rock City LLC to live by the population cap that I set.”
And then an interesting update from Maid Marian, via text message:
BRC spokesperson Marian Goodell responded to our inquiries via text message, downplaying concerns over probation and the population issues. Initially, she wrote that probation “won’t effect 5-year permit process,” and when we noted that Roegner said it would limit BRC to a one-year permit, she wrote, “We are still continuing the 5-year permit process. The probation is under appeal.”
We asked how BRC plans to abide by this year’s population cap given that it has already sold or distributed more tickets than the number of people allowed by the permit, she wrote, “Easy. Usually at least 6,000 leave before we hit the peak. Sometimes more on dusty, wet or cold years.”
The case for Air Burners is only getting more compelling.