The latest news about the dust-filled, “art” attack on the Black Rock Desert over Labor Day Weekend in September comes from the Bureau of Land Management, surprisingly approving the expansion of attendees from a cap of 50,000 to 60,900.
The BLM’s Interior Board of Land Appeals environmental assessment report that looked at all impacts associated with the thousands of flip-flop wearing, free-wheeling folks who converge on the innocent plot of land.
I haven’t been to Burning Man myself and have no desire to do so. But, this year, nearly every member of my extended family has secured one of those expensive tickets that were hard to find beginning in January.
Apparently, it’s a real hoot. To me, all I see are the images of the white-dust-covered creatures who emerge from the playa following the event. They are sunburned, tired and in desperate need of a bath. Many don’t even realize this — their minds are still enveloped in the fog following the burning of a very large wooden man and several days and nights of partying.
This year, the BLM appears to be in a position to gain a bit more control, following Burning Man’s request to increase the cap.
After reading bits and pieces of the environmental report, the BLM has a few demands that could make a difference this year.
The event is held in Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis developed on the desert playa some 8.5 miles northeast of the community of Gerlach. The group was extended a one-year special recreation permit, subject to special recreation stipulation for the 2012-2016 environmental assessment. The permit will cover the event that runs from Aug. 26 through Sept. 3.
The BLM is concerned about several impacts, including leftover debris (“debris continues to be an issue of the event”); following Nevada Department of Transportation guidelines to maintain acceptable levels of service on its roadways; mitigation of dripping oil on the playa; health and emergency impacts to visitors; risks of vehicle collisions to and from the event involving rangeland animals around the area; and impacts to surrounding events.
These concerns might make the “free-loving” burners a bit more restricted during their time at the event.
First, because of NDOT’s worries about surrounding roadways, no more than 1,000 vehicles per hour will be allowed to be released from Black Rock City during the exodus period. From what I’ve heard, the day home is slow-going at best. This new rule could slow it down even further.
Maybe, just as a suggestion, burners can make use of some of those artsy bikes and tricked out burn-mobiles to get out and make their way past the mobile homes, probably at a higher rate of speed.
Speed limit trailers will be posted along the route to alert burners (and law enforcement) to any unruly drivers.
Apparently the key roadways used by Burning Man participants include portions of Interstate 80, state routes 445, 447 and 427, County Road 34 and State Route 446 in its entirety.
Another issue, apparently, is that of keeping children out of sight during “adult” entertainment situations. Parents and guardians will be in charge of supervising these situations and answer to the Pershing County Sheriff’s Department when not in compliance.
Why anyone would take a child to this event is beyond my comprehension.
As far as public safety, sheriff’s deputies, Burning Man security, the Nevada Highway Patrol and BLM officers will be on hand to monitor inside and outside of the event in case of emergencies, such as natural and man-made disasters. The BLM and others will monitor the area for weather forecasts that could endanger attendees. Any natural disaster or civil unrest could send the burners packing at any moment.
“The most likely event would be a weather emergency,” the environmental report stated. “There is potential for natural or man-made emergency that could cause need for evacuation. The (assessment) includes summaries of … contingency plans including (a) separate contingency plan for an extreme weather event.”
Apparently, the playa dust includes gypsum — an alkaline dust — and silica — a known carcinogen. When airborne during high-wind events and when the crust of the playa is broken through surface-disturbing activities, participants can inhale these particulates, according to the BLM. Participants are made aware of the potential for high-wind events that cause “white out” conditions and methods to reduce exposure, such as the use of dust masks and goggles.
Also, because of the potential for indirect impact to the many cultural resources outside the playa, increased visitation at Black Rock Hot Springs, Double Hot Springs, Great Boiling Springs, Soldier (Mud) Meadows and Trego Hot Springs, burners will be encouraged to stay and not leave the event. They will be charged a re-entry fee to the playa at each of the BLM-managed hot springs to discourage leaving. Law enforcement will also patrol the areas on BLM land to help protect the resources daily.
Burning Man first started on a beach in San Francisco in 1986. It is amazing that it has grown to nearly 61,000 attendees from across the country and the world.
This year’s art theme will be “Fertility 2.0.”
With every intention, the event started as a fun-loving event, reminiscent of the 1970s. Today, BLM is reigning in control more and more. Though the event has now become a Nevada tradition, and the Burning Man LLC company gives back to the community with the millions it raises each year, I can sense that the fest is slowly giving way to government control as years pass.
Even the poop is monitored.
Jill Lufrano is a reporter at the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.