Q & A

Q: I think too many vehicles move around at Burning Man. I saw several undecorated cars and ATVs roaming around on Sunday night. Being on my bike, this traffic worried me. What is Burning Man doing to keep BRC safe for pedestrians and bicycles?

A: Several changes are coming for vehicles in Black Rock City in 2004. First, the Project is increasing the focus on bike culture, to give it even greater emphasis than before. We’re actively encouraging people to get away from their reliance on mutant vehicles for transportation and onto their bikes. Participants will see this “Year of the Bike” focus manifest in many ways. For more information, check out the new Bikes section of the AfterBurn Report.

Hand in hand with the new focus on bike culture will be increased enforcement of driving restrictions in BRC. In order to keep Black Rock City safe for bikes and pedestrians, unauthorized driving by unmodified vehicles is not permitted. Although this rule has always been in place, we have identified and are preparing to meet the need for increased enforcement. In 2004, unauthorized vehicles (unmodified ones not registered with DMV) caught driving in Black Rock City may be fined or impounded. Repeat offenders may be evicted. Additionally, unmodified recreational vehicles such as motorcycles and ATVs will not be permitted to enter our city. If a motorcycle is your primary vehicle, you will be allowed to drive it to your camp and park it.

The name for vehicles licensed to move around BRC has been changed to reflect this new emphasis. What we used to call art cars will now be referred to as mutant vehicles. All mutant vehicles must be pre-registered before arrival at the event. The DMV recently updated regulations for registration and approval. For more information on enforcement of requirements for recreational driving and mutant vehicles, visit the DMV section of this report.

Q: Can I get my RV’s potable water tanks filled at the event?

A: In 2003, an error in communication resulted in potable water being sold by a vendor at the event. In 2004, NO potable water will be offered for sale at Burning Man. All participants will be required to provide their own potable water.

Q: What has happened with the permits requested last year from Washoe County government to operate year-round facilities there?

A: In March 2001, Black Rock City LLC, the formal organization that operates the Burning Man event, purchased 200 acres in Hualapai Valley, Nevada with the intention of creating Black Rock Station (BRS), a permanent staging and storage area for the event. Transforming this property into a workable facility has been a difficult task. First, the 200-acre parcel contained a salvage yard left by the previous owners. Second, over the years BRC LLC accumulated several acres of miscellaneous stuff leftover from prior events. Third, the parcel’s zoning did not specifically allow the types of uses envisioned for it. Consequently, in 2002 BRC LLC applied for, and Washoe County initially issued, three special-use permits to operate wood and metal shops and an outdoor storage yard, as well as one to feed and house workers on the property. Later, the Washoe County Board of Commissioners upheld an appeal of the permits filed by neighbors in Hualapai Valley on the grounds that the uses were inappropriate for the area.

In response to the appeal, BRC LLC established a Comprehensive Development Plan in cooperation with Washoe County and Hualapai Valley neighbors in late 2003. The first phase of the plan calls for Black Rock Station’s operations to come into compliance with county regulations through a general clean-up of the property, establishment of a residence, installation of a septic system, and improvements to the water system. This phase is well underway. For example, 95 dumpsters of debris were removed, while over 20 acres have been reseeded to re-vegetate the disturbed adjoining land. As part of Phase Two of the Comprehensive Plan, BRC LLC will apply for two special-use permits early in 2004 that will specify fabrication activities similar to those in the previous permits but without the option to feed and house workers at Black Rock Station. Washoe County Community Development and the county Planning Commission praised clean-up efforts following inspections in December 2003. Some Hualapai Valley neighbors who initially led the opposition of the original permits have begun to demonstrate support for the clean-up and responsible planning efforts.

Two permits expected to be approved in early 2004 will authorize BRC LLC to establish wood, metal, and automotive repair shops. The wood and metal shops will be used to assemble lantern spires, road signs, stakes, burn platforms, the signature Burning Man sculpture, and other projects requiring pre-fabrication. The automotive repair shop will be used to maintain transportation and safety vehicles necessary to operate the BM event. BRC LLC is currently exploring options for housing and feeding event workers in the Gerlach area.

The Comprehensive Development Plan for Black Rock Station describes a long-term project. Future phases will continue the clean-up already begun, moving from the adjoining leased property into a permitted storage facility on the station and re-vegetating the vacated property, improving the site access road, and upgrading water and electric systems. Black Rock City LLC will also apply for additional special use permits that will authorize storage of most required materials on the property.

Q: I heard in the news about a group called Stopburningman.org. What exactly do they want? Why are they after Burning Man?

A: Certainly, we’ve seen our share of opposition, much of it reflecting misunderstanding about what we do in the Black Rock Desert. In 1997, it was Washoe County officials who didn’t understand what we were up to in the desert. In 2003, we heard about a group calling itself the “Anti Burning Man.” According to our sources, Ed Mitchell and Rex Skates started the stopburningman.org site a few years ago after being made to remove a monument they had constructed on BLM land in the desert near the site. Many of the photos on their site are staged, including one of Rex and his friends in Santa hats in a nearby hot spring. Another photo attributes discoloration of the desert to Burning Man, when it is actually from the 1999 Black Rock Golf Classic.

The Stopburningman.org site claims to oppose Burning Man on environmental grounds. However, Burning Man has been held in the same area of the desert since 2000, and the site is restored so completely that it is actually a favorite spot for land sailors. Although it makes for engaging news, Stopburningman.org is not a factually accurate website.

Some of the points it makes can be immediately refuted by careful analysis of the facts. The Burning Man organization does not set the method for inspecting its site after the event; the Bureau of Land Management does – an agency whose very existence is dedicated to protecting and ministering to the land. Any method employed to inspect an area as large as our event site can be questioned, since many hundreds of people would have to participate in order to inspect every inch of our site. However, the careful and methodical method used is overseen by the BLM, who are the guardians of this rare place of beauty. The same methods are used to transect recreation areas NOT used by Burning Man, and many of those areas actually fail to meet the official standard. Burning Man has been publicly praised by the BLM for setting new national standards for large-scale event clean-up.

Likewise, the Stopburningman.org group claims that our event’s disturbance of the playa surface is responsible for the “playa serpent” phenomenon, in which serpentine dunes form on the lakebed. They make no mention that this phenomenon is also found at sites entirely upwind from our event site. Geologists have studied this phenomenon since the 1950s, concluding the cause is a combination of naturally occurring conditions.

Burning Man and its volunteers have also put in a number of hours restoring areas beyond our event site, including the Frog Farm property. Far from causing “wildlife to die off en masse” as the protest site claims, the restoration completed so far has prompted the return of migratory waterfowl that previously stopped landing there due to the degradation of the site and excessive vegetation choking the ponds. Year-round public users had denuded the land around the property’s hot springs; we have done maintenance on the fence and gates and posted signs designating the private land as a no-camping/day use only area. We also spent many hours cleaning up garbage, abandoned cars, old farm equipment, and even human waste.

A plan to further improve the ecological condition of the property is under development by our organization, although this effort is not required by either county, state, or federal authorities. We do use some water from the large cold pond that we developed. Its use for dust abatement in Black Rock City, as required by the event permit, is approved by the Nevada State Water Authority and represents a very, very small portion of the annual flow of the artesian wells that exist on this property and an almost infinitesimal portion of the total water contained in this aquifer. The removal of some vegetation from these ponds has further enhanced the property for waterfowl.

Q: I’m thinking about bringing my children to the event this year. Is Burning Man a good place for kids?

A: Burning Man is increasing its focus on keeping Black Rock City a great place for kids. Children are an important part of any culture, and Burning Man is dedicated to embracing participation from people of all ages. All participants are encouraged to know the location of the children’s camp known as Kidsville, and to place their camps with its location in mind. If yours is not a family-friendly camp, please place it far away from Kidsville. Camps that are family-friendly are encouraged to camp in or adjacent to Kidsville’s location. We remind all parents to be extremely attentive to their children at all times, and to accept sole responsible for their safety and well-being. We ask too that all participants be respectful of children’s personal space and their unique needs at the event. Specifically adult-themed camps will be placed in zones away from Kidsville, and monitors will restrict entrance to these camps. Parents are expected to act responsibly toward their children.

Submitted by,
Andie Grace, Marian Goodell, Ray Allen, Eric Close