SF Examiner: “BLM Citation was issued in October”

A Burning Man cover story in the Examiner today sheds further light on the seriousness of the ticket crisis. They received the notice of violation from the Bureau of Land Management last October. Then, they famously changed the ticketing system, and went ahead and sold 58,000 tickets. This may have been a bold move, which resulted in 8,000 more Burners making it to the Playa this year. If that’s how it turns out, this blog will commend them. But if the event is capped to 50,000 (like the last 2 years of temporary permits) and has been oversold, all hell could break loose. It’s public lands, how are they going to keep out someone who might have paid more than $1000 for a ticket? In some ways this could be a better outcome – enabling them to apply for an increase to 70,000 or 100,000 for next year, instead of waiting until 2016. We’ll find out next month when, after some hardcore BMorg Lobbying in the corridors of power, the BLM gives its ruling.

Burning Man hopes to attract 58,000 patrons this year, and organizers boast that the festival is already sold out.

But the event is technically on government probation for exceeding last year’s attendance limit, and its authorized 2012 population is still unclear.

An application to authorize 58,000 attendees at the weeklong art festival held around Labor Day in the Nevada desert is pending an environmental assessment. But if organizers exceed their authorized limits again, they could face suspension.

In October, Black Rock LLC, the organization behind the festival, received a notice of violation for exceeding its 2011 population limit by nearly 4,000 people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The permit authorized 50,000 people.

“We felt it was necessary to issue a notice of noncompliance,” said Gene Seidlitz, district manager of the land bureau office in Winnemucca, Nev. “It means Black Rock City has not operated within its terms and conditions.”

Black Rock LLC has appealed the decision, which is still pending.

The 25-year-old festival sold out for the first time last year. Organizers had been working to increase the population under a five-year permit. The festival’s previous permit expired in 2010 and organizers sought one-year permits while the environmental assessment and reviews for a five-year permit were being considered.

One stipulation of the probation notice is that the festival cannot again exceed the limit on the maximum number of participants. If that were to happen, Burning Man could potentially face a permit 

“Hopefully that doesn’t happen,” Seidlitz said. “But if they receive probationary status two years in a row, the BLM can suspend, cancel or deny any permit in the future.”

In the meantime, though, organizers are proceeding with plans for this year’s festival even without knowing how many visitors they can legally accommodate, which could range from 50,000 to 60,000 depending on the BLM’s decision.

Black Rock spokeswoman Marian Goodell said the organization is operating under the assumption that it will be authorized to host 58,000 people because that is within the range the BLM provided under an application to increase the population to 70,000 over the next five years.

Goodell said this year’s festival has sold out, but declined to say at what level.

Regardless of the uncertainty, both BLM and festival organizers said they are hopeful the event will continue. They expect to have a final decision in June, when the final environmental assessment is expected to be released and a decision on the appeal should be announced.

“Of course we’d like to have had the permit earlier,” Goodell said. “But it’s a very careful process. And right now the brakes are on.”

The story does imply that the BLM is considering “60,000” or even “a number in the 60’s” for this years permit – this would mean thousands more tickets.