Pershing County has fired back at Burning Man in a legal argument over a major fee increase that could threaten the future of the Nevada desert event.
In August, Burning Man filed a lawsuit claiming the county had illegally levied against it a new festival ordinance. The suit says that since the event is held on federal land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, the county cannot impose fees that exceed what is agreed to in the federal permitting process.
In new paperwork filed Tuesday, Pershing County argues that despite the event being on federal land, the local jurisdiction has authority over policing and judicial actions and the county should be compensated for the resources expended.
Burning Man has paid Pershing County to cover costs for law enforcement connected to the event, which has been held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert since 1991.
In 2006, Burning Man entered into an agreement with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office to cover expenses. In 2006, the expenses were $66,000 and have increased over the years to reach $170,000 for the 2011 event. Under the first year of the new festival ordinance, the county could charge $600,000 to $800,000 in 2013, according to the original lawsuit.
Burning Man organizers have said those costs — above the roughly $1.5 million for the federal permit — could lead to the event being held elsewhere.
Also in the original lawsuit was a claim that the new festival ordinance limited the First Amendment rights of organizers. The new paperwork says the county is not trying to limit any type of activity or speech with its festival ordinance.