Burning Man organizers sue U.S. government, demand millions in overcharged permit fees

Click to play video: 'Dust devils appear near massive bonfires during Burning Man music festival in Nevada' Dust devils appear near massive bonfires during Burning Man music festival in Nevada
WATCH: Dust devils appear near massive bonfires during Burning Man music festival in Nevada – Sep 9, 2016

Burning Man organizers sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to recover millions of dollars they say the government has overcharged them in fees over the past seven years at the counter-culture celebration in the Nevada desert.

Black Rock City LLC, the non-profit that produces the annual Burning Man event, filed the lawsuit Dec. 13 in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Organizers told the Reno Gazette Journal they’re tired of waiting over the past four years for the bureau to provide justification for the nearly $3 million it charges annually for a permit to hold the 80,000-person event in the Black Rock Desert about 100 miles north of Reno.

In this Aug. 29, 2014, file photo, Burning Man participants walk through dust at the annual Burning Man event on the Black Rock Desert of Gerlach, Nev. Andy Barron / The Reno Gazette-Journal via The Associated Press

“This case is our attempt to break this cycle,” Burning Man spokeswoman Megan Miller said in an email to the newspaper.

Story continues below advertisement

The Burning Man organization is seeking “relief from defendants’ ongoing, unlawful and prejudicial conduct towards (Black Rock City LLC) that threatens the viability of the iconic Burning Man event,” the lawsuit said.

Bureau of Land Management officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

In recent years, Black Rock City has been required to reimburse the BLM, which provides law enforcement and oversight at the event, for its services and expenses.

READ MORE: Burning Man festival left too much trash at its desert location, federal officials say

In addition, the group is required to pay a 3 per cent gross receipts fee, or a portion of its revenue. In 2018, organizers reported nearly $44 million in revenue from the event.

Black Rock City earlier this year hired the Washington-based lobbying firm Holland and Knight to take on battles with federal officials, specifically those with the BLM and Department of Interior.

In the past four years, Black Rock City has filed six appeals challenging what it deemed excessive and unjustified costs, according to the lawsuit.

In this Sept. 2, 2006 file photo, ‘The Man,’ a stick figured symbol of the Burning Man art festival, is silhouetted against a morning sunrise in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Ron Lewis / The Associated Press

Since 2012, the BLM’s costs have been inflated, according to the lawsuit, though the BLM has failed to provide reasoning for increased costs.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2012, Burning Man organizers reimbursed the BLM nearly $1.4 million in expenses, a 60 per cent year-over-year increase, though the event population increased by only 4 per cent that year, according to the lawsuit. The following year, the same bill was $2.9 million, according to the lawsuit.

In three years, the cost recovery charges increased by 291 per cent, and the Burning Man event population increased by 39 per cent, Black Rock City attorneys said.

READ MORE: Gord Downie fans freaked out by ghostly image in smoke at Burning Man

In 2019, the organization paid approximately $2.9 million for the event, excluding the commercial use fee.

The organization is trying to free itself from “this broken and unreasonably burdensome pattern and practice” executed specifically by the permitting district, the Winnemucca District of the Bureau of Land Management, according to the lawsuit.

Organizers tar forced to either “accept BLM’s charges and conditions, however unreasonable, or cancel the already-scheduled Burning Man event,” the lawsuit said.

Sponsored content