Several members of the Board and Senior Staff from various departments (including Communications, Rangers and Emergency Services) interact year-round with numerous government agencies that help make Burning Man possible. On-playa they are collectively known as the External Relations Team (XRT). Each year XRT members secure necessary event permits from federal, state and local government agencies. On-playa, the XRT conducts Black Rock City infrastructure tours for government officials who help make the event happen. The goals of the XRT are to ensure the survival of the event by addressing political and legal concerns of government agencies, and maintaining long-term positive relationships with our neighbors in Nevada.
Federal Government Relations
Maintaining good relations with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the government entity that issues the Special Recreation Permit for the Burning Man event, is one of the primary foci of Black Rock City, LLC (BRC). In 2007 the main BLM issue facing BRC was BLM’s decision to switch to a new method of charging fees for the use of the Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. Previously (from 1998 to 2006) BLM charged BRC $4 per person per day ($4 PPPD), a rate set by Congress for the use of public lands by an organized event. In 2007 BLM switched to Cost Recovery plus 3% of Gross Revenue, which is the BLM’s cost scheme for commercial events.
Although Burning Man is virtually a no-commerce event, under BLM regulations the event is technically considered a commercial event since tickets are sold for entry. BLM has considerable leeway in classifying Burning Man as either an organized event or a commercial event. Since both methods generate approximately the same amount of revenue for BLM, and since $4 PPPD is easier to calculate and administer, that method had been favored over the years. The BLM’s decision to switch from $ 4 PPPD to Cost Recovery in 2007 seemed to be financially motivated. However, the switch yielded the BLM slightly less money than they would have received under $4 PPPD and created a great deal more paperwork for both the BLM and BRC.
Under Cost Recovery, BLM is required to keep accurate records of everything that it spends to administer Burning Man’s permit. Burning Man’s review of the records revealed that BLM’s accounting system had not been set up to properly account for all of its costs. While Burning Man recognizes that BLM is facing challenges in setting up a new accounting system, the decision to switch to Cost Recovery without having a reliable system in place to manage the fees seemed a bit hasty and imprudent to BRC as the largest Special Recreation Permittee on public lands (and the largest Leave No Trace event in the world).
Another wrinkle in the Cost Recovery Process was BLM’s decision to tack on an additional 19% administrative charge. There is an allowance in the BLM’s handbook for a charge for administrative overhead, to cover things like time spent processing the permit. However, it does not seem to apply to our event since the BLM already charges for all time spent working on the Burning Man event. BRC is still working out the final Cost Recovery accounting, including the appropriateness of the extra 19% with BLM. Hopefully these issues will be resolved so that 2008 will be a smoother year for both parties.
State, Local & Native American Relations
Relations have been positive with our neighboring constituencies in Northern Nevada. 2007 saw the signing of multi-year agreements with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office and Nevada Highway Patrol. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Reservation signed a multi-year agreement in 2006, and negotiations are underway with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office for a multi-year agreement in 2008. The agreements are to provide for stepped up traffic patrols during the Burning Man event season on the roads leading to Burning Man, as well as law enforcement within Black Rock City. The multi-year nature of these contracts is a testament to the long-term cooperative relationship between BRC and these agencies. We are pleased that these entities consider us as a long-term partner in the region.
2007 brought a new Sheriff of Washoe County and a new Chief of the Pyramid Lake Tribal Reservation. Burning Man representatives met with both in order to foster good neighborly relations. The relationships with the Nevada Department of Transportation and the Nevada Division of Health are going well.
The Green Man theme brought solar panels to the playa temporarily to power the Green Man Pavilion. Afterwards the panels were donated and installed permanently at the Gerlach School and the Pershing County General Hospital. The project was made possible by the unique combination of the following: a donation of panels by MMA Renewable Ventures, Nevada’s solar incentive rebates, Burning Man volunteer labor, and a widespread desire to take the concept of gifting at Burning Man to a new level. In addition to giving clean, cost-efficient energy to the region, the project has helped make relations even more solid with our neighboring municipalities.
This year the External Relations Team (XRT) welcomed more visiting diplomats to Black Rock City than ever before. Invitations were sent to all of the government officials in Nevada who help make Burning Man possible, as well as new invitees such as representatives from the Solar Generations Program (who helped make the solar project possible) and representatives from Albertson’s grocery (who created the recycling program in Reno). Many had been to the event before and were welcomed home. Others were oriented to the unique culture and Ten Principles of Burning Man. We hope to see them again in 2008.