Organizers of Burning Man have filed a lawsuit against a Nevada county in order to stop a major fee increase that could threaten the future of the event.
Scroll down to read the full complaint filed by Burning Man.
Since 1991, the Burning Man festival has been held yearly in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Except for in 2007, the event has been held on federal land that is under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, which is under the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In order to hold the event, Burning Man, which draws more than 50,000 participants, must receive a federal permit each year and pay fees, which organizers say is about $1.5 million this year. The organization also has an agreement with Pershing County to cover costs for law enforcement connected to the event.
A lawsuit filed Thursday against the county, however, argues that the county has illegally levied new fees against the event.
Beginning in 2006, Burning Man entered into an agreement with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office to cover actual expenses that were incurred because of the event. The payment to the county in 2006 was $66,000, according to the lawsuit. The cost increased over the years, reaching more than $170,000 for the 2011 event.
This year, the county instituted a new so-called festival ordinance on Burning Man, leading to fees that are more than $450,000, according to festival organizers. The lawsuit filed by Burning Man argues that since the event is held on federal land, the county does not have the right to charge more than is agreed to in the federal permitting process.
Larry Harvey, executive director and co-founder of Burning Man, told The San Francisco Examiner that a big contention is that there is no correlation between the sheriff’s fee and the actual costs incurred by the department.
He pointed out that in addition to already paying fees to the Sheriff’s Office, the event provides economic benefits for the businesses in the county from the tens of thousands of people who go to the festival. In addition, Burning Man contributes to community charity causes, such as a free solar project at an area hospital.
The lawsuit is seeking a reimbursement for the money this year levied upon Burning Man, though organizers say they will agree to pay the costs incurred by the Sheriff’s Office.
A bigger fear, however, is the possible increase in the fees for next year’s event. According to the lawsuit, the county could charge between $600,000 and $800,000 under the festival ordinance in 2013.
The increased fee “makes it very hard to continue doing business in northern Nevada,” Harvey said.
The battle over the fees will have no effect on this year’s event, which runs from Aug. 27 through Sept. 3 and draw as many as 60,900 participants.
“We are in no danger of ceasing to operate,” Harvey said.
Several calls to the Pershing County Board of Commissioners for comment were not returned Friday.