Burning Man Organizers Agree to Pay County $240k a Year to Pay for Festival Security

By Scott Sonner
|  Thursday, Nov 14, 2013  |  Updated 1:39 PM PDT
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    Editor's note:

    In a story Nov. 11 about security and insurance costs at the Burning Man counterculture festival, The Associated Press erroneously reported the terms of the agreement. The agreement estimates Burning Man will pay $240,000 a year over 10 years to Pershing County, with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's share covered in a separate agreement, not more than $600,000 a year to the county and BLM. Burning Man would be required to maintain up to $1 million in insurance coverage in the separate BLM agreement, not the agreement with the county.

    The correct version of the story appears below:

    Burning Man organizers have agreed to pay the Pershing County sheriff's office about $240,000 a year over the next 10 years for security and other services at the annual counter-culture festival in the Black Rock Desert.

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    Black Rock City LLC, the San Francisco-based company behind Burning Man, also agreed to reimburse the sheriff and district attorney for costs related to prosecuting the most serious felony arrests at the festival, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Reno last week.

    The new agreement is intended to settle a lawsuit Black Rock City filed against the county a year ago challenging the constitutionality of a new county ordinance that requires the company to pay a $1.50-per-head fee for festivalgoers.

    It anticipates that like last year the county will engage in a joint law enforcement program with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It projects the county will be paid $240,000 with an anticipated peak crowd of less than 70,000 in 2014, but it does not address BLM's share of law enforcement expenses. Those will be addressed in a separate agreement attached to a pending federal land use permit, which will include the necessary insurance coverage.

    Last year, Black Rock City paid BLM $2.8 million to meet the terms of that agreement, which included services to administer the permit, monitor environmental compliance, provide insurance and ensure public health and safety on public lands, Burning Man's public relations manager Megan Miller said. She said she could not break down the individual cost of law enforcement.

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    U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones has rescheduled a hearing in Reno Nov. 25 to consider Black Rock City's motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the new agreement. Pershing County is not contesting the motion.

    Raymond Allen, Black Rock City's legal affairs manager, expects the judge to dismiss the suit and formally approve the agreement.

    "This addresses all of our concerns and I'm pretty sure addresses all of the county's concerns as well. It is a mutually beneficial, long-term sustainable agreement," Allen said.

    Lawyers for Black Rock City filed the lawsuit in Reno in August 2012 accusing Pershing County of violating their First Amendment rights by imposing fees for visitors to the event on BLM land.

    The new deal comes after Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, introduced a bill in the Legislature earlier this year seeking to prevent local governments from imposing fees on any gatherings already permitted on federal lands. The measure eventually was amended and signed into law, authorizing local governments to sign agreements with event organizers exempting them from other county ordinances and negotiated reimbursement for services.

    Allen, Pershing County District Attorney James Shirley and county commissioners signed the new 10-year agreement in September.

    Under the deal, the payments to law enforcement will be based on a sliding scale depending on the peak attendance at the event that runs for eight days through Labor Day weekend about 100 miles north of Reno.

    Last year's peak attendance was an estimated 68,000, up from about 58,000 the year before.

    Under the fee schedule, Black Rock City would pay the county $230,000 for crowds of fewer than 60,000. The total climbs to $375,000 if the peak attendance exceeds 90,000.

    The gathering, which draws people from around the world, is the largest permitted event on federal land in the United States.

    After it moved from San Francisco's Baker Beach, the inaugural Burning Man in Nevada drew some 80 people in 1990. The first 1,000-plus crowd was in 1993, and attendance doubled each of the next three years before reaching 23,000 in 1999. The crowd was capped at 50,000 under a five-year permit that expired in 2010. The current permit allows a maximum crowd of 70,000, but organizers applied for a cap of 68,000 before this year's festival.

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