The Bureau of Land Management has published its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Burning Man Event in Black Rock City, outlining a series of operational requirements and mitigations that ostensibly ensure our event remains in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
While Burning Man Project remains committed to continuing our 30-year legacy of environmental stewardship and Leaving No Trace, many of the measures recommended by BLM are unreasonable, untenable, attempt to solve problems that don’t exist, and/or create new (and worse) problems. Altogether, these requirements would fundamentally change the operational integrity and cultural fabric of Black Rock City, and would spell the end of the event as we know it. This is not an exaggeration, and we need your help by April 29.
The best way to influence this outcome is for you — Burners, the general public, business owners, civic leaders, and in particular subject matter experts — to provide substantive comments to the BLM, challenging these proposed requirements on their merits. This post explains how and where to submit an effective comment. By law, these comments must be taken into consideration by the BLM in their drafting of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which directly affects the future of our event.
The Draft EIS does not adequately factor in the astronomical cost increases and beyond-excessive government oversight associated with BLM’s requirements. It does not adequately factor in our operational track record or expertise and proposes instead to increase federal government agency operations exponentially in order to take over or “monitor” our operations. Impacted operations would include gate and perimeter security, ticket sales, vehicle counts, population tracking, and use of light sources during the event. BLM measures would insert BLM agents into Burning Man Project pre-event and post-event operations on site, when our teams are building and removing infrastructure and performing playa restoration. The proposed level of government surveillance of and involvement in our everyday operations is unprecedented and unwarranted, and is unsupported by the EIS analysis.
This post provides background information for the most egregious mitigations and monitoring located in Appendix E of Volume 2 — giving you the context, history, facts, and operational realities of each — to help you address informed, substantive comments to the BLM about both the (devastating) direct and indirect impacts of the mitigations, as well as the (often faulty) premises and assumptions on which they were built (found in Chapter 3 and the Special Studies Supporting the EIS).
Send your own EIS comments (and lend support to ours) to the BLM at: email@example.com. Send your questions, concerns, and ideas to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to cc: that email address when you submit your comments to BLM. We want to hear from you. We will be publishing a FAQ soon to answer your most common questions. We also need experts in the following subjects to submit comments and to help us with our review of the DEIS Special Studies:
- Air Quality (and this cumulative impact report)
- Night Skies
- Biological Resources
- Special Designations, Wilderness
As you read through this analysis, and through the EIS itself, it’s important to consider the following:
- The most effective comments provide relevant information or a different perspective that was not fully analyzed or taken into account in the Draft EIS. Effective questions ask about things the EIS fails to adequately address.
- Fact-based, substantive comments are better than opinions or feelings. “I love Burning Man and this is terrible,” while quite possibly true, is not considered a substantive comment by BLM’s standards.
- Challenge the substance of the mitigation AND the assumptions underlying it.
- If you’d reconsider your participation in Burning Man should these mitigations be implemented, state that.
- Review all of the mitigations and monitoring — we need comments on every one of them — and ask your friends (subject matter experts in particular) to comment as well.
- Don’t copy and paste somebody else’s words exactly, or it’ll be considered a form letter, and will carry less weight.
- All comments must be submitted by April 29, 2019.
What follows is important background information about the mitigations and monitoring proposals from BLM that concern us most. We hope this information helps you understand the issues more clearly, and we hope you will help us explain to the BLM why they shouldn’t stand.
Migratory Birds, Wildlife, Special Status Species and Threatened and Endangered Species
Require Burning Man Project (hereinafter BRC or BMP) to reduce the amount of light pollution by banning the use of high-energy lasers and searchlights being pointed straight up, and requiring shields on sources of light at night where feasible.
The methodology used by the BLM’s subject matter experts to determine the impacts of the Burning Man event on the night sky is essentially snapshots from a satellite, called VIIRS. Black Rock City asked independent experts to review the data. These experts found that the 2017 readings “were the most poorly sampled (at the Burning Man event) in the entire 2012-2017 satellite database. In the opinion of these experts, this single anomalously high data point is insufficient evidence to produce confidence in a new trend that warrants action by Black Rock City to be taken at this time.
The expert team explained that “[u]sable VIIRS data were obtained on only 4 nights of the 9-day [event] in 2017. Indeed, the VIIRS measure on 29 August 2017 is the highest seen that year, or for that matter, the highest seen in any year starting with 2012. The second highest value occurred in 2012… The high value on 29 August could reflect an unusual occurrence at [BRC] at the time the VIIRS ‘snapshot’ was taken, such as a very large combustion event occurring at the time the satellite measurement was made… Since there are no additional measures (such as a second satellite measure of the same night, or any simultaneous or near simultaneous ground-based observations), the WRC study provides no data to confirm and thus add credence to this high measure, or to otherwise provide insight into its nature.”
From the Report: “The overall assessment methodology depends too heavily on VIIRS satellite measurements. There is inadequate ground-based data to investigate directly sky glow impacts of the [BRC], particularly those events during the festival that could cause significant increases in sky glow and VIIRs radiance measures. Such data during the future events would address the issue of potential ALAN changes raised by the WRC [BLM’s experts] report.
Back on Earth, Burning Man has a robust nightlife which, combined with the artists’ technical creativity and the darkness of the playa, heavily features light-based artwork. Due to daytime temperatures and compressed construction schedules, artists, Black Rock City Operations, and Department of Public Works (DPW) necessarily work at night, and require light towers and other lighting for safety. The nighttime Black Rock City skyline has become a hallmark of the Burning Man experience, including innumerable LEDs, lasers, and searchlights throughout the city. Previous environmental studies have shown the migration pattern of birds isn’t in fact impacted by light pollution emanating from the Black Rock Desert … in fact, birds are rarely encountered on the playa in hot summer months. This could be the reason why the EIS doesn’t provide sufficient data about the species and quantity of birds affected by this alleged problem. (It’s also worth noting that by far the brightest light cluster on playa is to be found at the BLM compound.)
Wetlands and Riparian Areas
BRC must ascertain with the ACOE if a Clean Water Act Section 404 Nationwide Permit 33, and/or Nationwide Permit 18 is needed. If so, the proponent must obtain those permits and provide copies to the BLM 30 calendar days before the start of the Closure Order.
BLM has taken the position that the Black Rock Desert playa during August and September is a wetland and that BMP needs to get a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers. BMP has researched this issue and determined that no permit is required. If you have special knowledge on this issue, we would appreciate your opinion as well.
To reduce litter and trash in the PLPT Reservation and along SR 447, the proponent must place a sufficient number of dumpsters in the city and along Gate Road before its intersection with Highway 34. This is intended to reduce adverse impacts on the PLPT Reservation and SR 447. These dumpsters must be placed by 12:01 a.m. on the Friday before Labor Day and must be kept in place until Exodus is completed. To prevent overflow, BRC will be required to maintain the dumpsters during the time they are in place.
Burning Man is the largest and most successful Leave No Trace event in the world. Leaving No Trace has been one of our core principles for over 30 years, and is the bedrock of our ethos of Radical Self-reliance: we pack everything in and pack everything out. Our community’s resounding success in this area is largely due to the fact that there are no trash cans (or dumpsters) on playa, so participants must rely on themselves to Leave No Trace. Our history has proven that if you emphasize the LNT ethic and don’t offer on-site waste removal support resources, people won’t come to expect the organizing entity to handle their other needs as well. This is part of what pulls community together.
Also, this requirement would be logistically and financially crippling to Black Rock City’s operations and would create significant detrimental environmental impacts including increased traffic on Highway 447 and CR34, increased greenhouse gas emissions from hundreds of flatbed trucks transporting large, heavy loads, and increased fuel consumption. Offering dumpsters for trash disposal would undermine the core principles of Burning Man’s culture and cause environmental degradation.
According to BLM, this solution is meant to address trash falling off of cars from poorly secured loads. The fact is that after each Burning Man event concludes, Black Rock City’s Highway Cleanup Team conducts (and BRC pays for) exhaustive trash sweeps of not only of Routes 447, 446 and 34 (which are required), but we go beyond and include RT 445 and Jungo Road, as well as investigating trash complaints in Reno. Not only do we pick up after traveling Burners, our team picks up trash and debris discarded by residents, land owners, truck drivers, businesses, law enforcement, tourists, tribes, ranchers, and nature lovers year-round. This is our duty and our gift to nearby communities and the users of these public roads. Our organization works closely with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Nevada Department of Transportation year-round to support tribally permitted operators and after the event to respond to any location where trash has been accidentally or intentionally dumped.
Additionally, members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe enjoy a thriving business of accepting and disposing of participants’ trash and recycling at post-event waste stations along SR 447, and this lucrative annual revenue source would be decimated by implementation of BLM’s plan.
BLM’s analysis fails to adequately contemplate impacts to the playa itself from the additional driving and infrastructure required for this dumpster operation.
Lastly, not only would this create significant carbon emissions from transportation of the approximately 1,500 30-yard dumpsters (weighing 5 tons each for a total of 7,500 tons, or 15 million pounds) to and from the playa, further stressing the road system, it’s estimated that this would also cost over $5M to implement, causing prohibitively higher ticket prices. This is, of course, assuming that dumpsters are even available in the region. If they are not, which is highly likely, the financial and logistical costs rise even higher. This mitigation would also require the creation, management, 24×7 monitoring, and cleanup of an approximately 360,000 square foot (that’s roughly seven football fields) transfer station (1500 8’x20’ dumpsters with 4’ between each for access) plus space for 30,000 vehicles to pull over in turn and dispose of their trash — in the middle of a National Conservation Area.
Public Health & Safety
At all portals of entry into the Event, beginning 14 days before Labor Day, BRC will be required to contract a BLM-approved, independent, third-party, private security to screen vehicles and participants, vendors and contractors, and staff and volunteers entering the Event. Third-party, private security will report Closure Order violations, to include weapons and illegal drugs, directly to law enforcement as violations are observed so that law enforcement can respond. Third-party, private security will provide an Event summary report to the BLM within 30 days of the end of the Event.
This BLM requirement constitutes search and seizure without just cause — the “probable cause” in this case is solely and exclusively the fact that a participant is going to Burning Man, and we believe this would constitute a violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
For many years, BRC has published and widely publicized a list of prohibited items that are not allowed into Black Rock City, including weapons, narcotics and fireworks. We enforce these restrictions when items are discovered in vehicles during entry.
Operationally, this recommendation would require dozens more lanes on Gate Road to process people in a timely manner while private security agents stop and search every single vehicle and each passenger, unpacking belongings onto the playa as BLM does now, tripling or quadrupling the area of impacted playa surface. With the current number of lanes on Gate Road, the delay from this private security operation would cause entrance times to be extended by days. Not hours, days.
We currently estimate this operation, if it were feasible and legal, would cost well over $3 million.
From the data available in the Draft EIS, it appears BLM’s experts failed to adequately consider the increased detrimental environmental impacts of this recommendation. Deleterious impacts to the environment would include increased tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases caused by idling vehicles and additional staff transportation, increased traffic, dust, and massive playa surface disturbance. The Draft EIS speaks about the risk of civil unrest, which has not happened in Black Rock City, but does not consider at all the potential for frustrations to boil over when event entry is impeded by a private security force reporting to the federal government and the delays it will cause.
Also of great concern to Burning Man Project and the Burning Man community are the serious cultural impacts this recommendation would have. Black Rock City is a participatory environment, and a key part of that participation is volunteering. Requiring a private company to perform this unnecessary and analytically unfounded function at the event would damage this shared value within the community, and it would negatively alter the experience of thousands of visitors to public lands, since the first experience people would have upon arrival to the National Conservation Area would be an unconstitutional search of their person and belongings.
BRC will be required to implement physical perimeter barriers (e.g., Jersey barriers and K-rail fence) to reduce the risk of unauthorized entry to the Event. This will be done concurrent with city and perimeter fence construction.
This proposal from BLM is not supported by the analysis, logistically onerous, environmentally irresponsible, unnecessarily redundant, prohibitively expensive, and a clear demonstration that the proposed mitigation was not sufficiently thought through. It shows a clear lack of on-the-ground institutional knowledge or full spectrum logistical understanding of the event and the environmental impact that the delivery and installation of the barriers would have on the site in question. In fact, this lack of any reasonable consideration calls into question the integrity of the whole EIS document.
Burning Man Project currently installs a nine-mile orange trash fence around the event site, which serves as our visual perimeter and is heavily monitored and patrolled by the Black Rock City Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus Staff 24 hours a day using sophisticated radar, night vision, and patrol intercept trucks in coordination with BLM Rangers. This type of fencing allows the wind to blow through but catches MOOP (Matter Out Of Place).
BLM’s barrier mitigation would dramatically increase the Burning Man event’s carbon footprint, a paradoxical recommendation for an Environmental Impact Statement. The added irony is that this “solution” would create unprecedented environmental impacts on the playa surface itself, a concern so great that BLM brought in NASA to study it. The barrier would create a massive, 10-mile-long set of dunes that would eclipse by huge margins any past dunes and need to be remediated with heavy machinery, which should not be a recommendation in an EIS. The impact to the playa surface created by 1,900 separate 10-ton loads being driven over repeatedly would create a new restoration project for both Burning Man Project and BLM to mitigate. Increased fuel consumption, greenhouse atmospheric emissions, and damage to local roads leading into the event are all results that will negatively affect the environment of Northern Nevada.
This closure area is monitored by radar capable of detecting the shape signature of anything larger than a jackrabbit both within the perimeter fence and for several miles outside or approaching the perimeter fence. Simply put, the BMP Gate, Perimeter, Exodus team has the ability to pinpoint any human being from several miles away, and can radio an intercept vehicle instantly to the exact location of any person or vehicle headed toward the city from outside the perimeter fence. It is a remarkably efficient system. It is near impossible under the current paradigm for a person or vehicle to breach the trash fence undetected, and no life threatening event has occurred or even “almost occurred” because of such a breach.
That being the case, the erection of a massive concrete or plastic barrier around the event could only generously be described as an incoherent solution completely unsupported by the Draft EIS analysis. We did some initial calculations on the logistics of such an undertaking, principally to illustrate that it appears to be unlikely that that same due diligence was done before the mitigation was suggested, and to illustrate the potential impact to our operations.
For the sake of our example, we contacted the closest available vendor to the event site that manufactures and/or provides standard concrete Jersey Barriers / K-Rail, located in Sparks, NV.
Through a phone quote, we were able to get a price of $662.00 for a single 10 foot long standard barrier. (This is actually a remarkably competitive price — we found others as high as $1200.00 each.)
As stated earlier, the perimeter fence around the BRC site is roughly nine miles long, or more specifically, 47,520 feet. The largest effective gap between two barriers that would prevent a car driving through would be four feet. This would still leave a gap that a participant could easily walk or ride a bike through. BLM did not state whether there would or could be gaps between the barriers, so we assume the worst case scenario of no gaps between the barriers.
In order to build a big, strong wall, it would require the purchase, transportation, placement, strike, return transportation and storage of 4,752 barrier lengths. A single, standard 10 foot Jersey barrier weighs 2 tons (4,000 lbs). As a top line cost, that amounts to approximately $3 million.
Before we even address the issues of moving them (all 19 MILLION POUNDS of them), it’s important to note that the vendor does not hold stock in these staggering numbers. When Burning Man Project inquired on how long the fabrication of our order would take, we were informed that the fabrication of our order would require 1,584 days, or four years and four months, assuming that the plant ran seven days a week.
Once completed, the barriers would now need to be transported. According to our transportation staff, a standard flatbed semi trailer can haul twelve barriers per trip. This would require 396 separate 115-mile one-way trips from Sparks to BRC at standard shipping rates of $3.30 per mile plus driver and gas costs. One-way shipping for the barriers would cost roughly $3150,282 which would need to then be duplicated at the end of the event, for a total of $300,564. No wonder BLM wants us to pay for future repairs to CR 34.
Once on site, the barriers would need to be offloaded and placed using variable reach forklifts. According to experts in our Heavy Equipment department, it would optimistically take an hour to offload and place a single truckload. This means we could offload and place 12 units per hour. This equates to a total of 396 man hours for offloading alone, roughly 49 days at eight hours a day, seven days a week or one month if we double the time or equipment and manpower. Of course, this entire process must then happen again in reverse at the conclusion of the event cycle.
[Editor’s Note: The preceding two paragraphs were updated on 4/16/19 to reflect new information about the size of the barriers, and the amount of equipment and time needed to transport, install and deinstall them, stemming from the fact that a flatbed can carry a dozen barriers at a time, rather than five, as originally stated.]
This single proposed idea presents millions of dollars in unnecessary costs and an impossible timeline. All of this in service of an imagined problem that is currently being more than effectively mitigated at an astronomical fraction of the time and cost. None of this even scratches the surface of other costs and concerns. Where do these barriers go after the event? How much does it cost to store them?
It does not appear that this mitigation was proposed in any interest of the Black Rock Desert environment or the sustainability of the event. Even if the unrealistic timeline could be overcome and environmental impacts resolved, the cost of this mitigation alone would represent an untenable increase in Burning Man Project’s operational costs.
During pre- and post-Event time frames within the Closure Order, BRC will contract an ambulance service for emergency services.
BLM has not shown significant impact requiring mitigation. Each year during the approximately 65 days of pre and post-event, between zero and four people working within Black Rock City on the playa or in Gerlach request or require ground transportation to a local hospital. The agencies that undertake the transport are paid by insurance. There are fewer than 500 people on playa for all but 11 of the 65 days, and the peak population during those 11 days is around 3,000, at which time BRC has a sufficient number of ambulances in place on playa. This proposed requirement would cost BMP and ticket holders up to $600,000 in a typical year, or just over $150,000 per transport.
Burning Man is committed to public health and safety, as evidenced by our on-site hospital, six first aid stations, fixed-wing airplane for off-site transport, fire department, hazmatt response, crisis intervention experts, and year-round collaboration with multiple state and county agencies. BLM’s data simply does not support their recommendation. Furthermore this type of mitigation is beyond the scope of the National Environmental Policy Act.
BRC will require all participants and staff on the playa to clean up and dispose of all fluids and materials by the appropriate means. The BLM will monitor disposals.
As written, this mitigation is nearly impossible to understand or comply with. Improper discharge or disposal of trash, grey and black water, human waste, fuel, and hazardous materials are already prohibited in the BLM’s Temporary Closure Order for the Burning Man event. Black Rock City already has three different teams working together on site to educate staff and participants and help ensure improper spills and disposal are minimized. Black Rock City can not create or enforce any requirement about “all fluids” or “all materials.” BLM has not defined “appropriate means” and has not shared their plan to “monitor disposals.”
Supporting the proper clean-up of all greywater, blackwater, and chemical (think paint or radiator fluid for example) spills has long been part of our year-round Leave No Trace guidelines and our on-site environmental education and compliance. Larger spills (which are rare) are remediated immediately, reported to BLM, and included in our Playa Restoration MOOP Map report, which identifies offending camps so that our Placement Team can address the issue directly with them. We clean up all remaining spills during Playa Restoration. As part of our Leave Nevada Beautiful campaign, we provide a hang-tag to every vehicle entering the event listing regional resources for proper and authorized waste disposal. Water is a fluid, and it is impossible to require all participants and staff on the playa to clean up water.
The proponent will educate participants, vendors and contractors, and staff and volunteers on all wastewater (e.g., grey and black) management from motor homes, campers, and service trucks.
Black Rock City already provides information (here and here, for instance) in its primary communications channels about proper wastewater management, but can not possibly educate participants, vendors and contractors, and staff and volunteers on ALL aspects of wastewater management from motor homes, campers, and service trucks. This proposed mitigation, like so many others in the Draft EIS, exceeds the scope of NEPA by requiring a private operator to take responsibility for the actions of attendees while they are not on site. This type of requirement is excessive and doesn’t exist for other sensitive public lands, including National Parks.
To prevent unnecessary and undue degradation, for BRC’s fuel storage facilities, BRC will create a spill prevention control and containment plan in accordance with 40 CFR 112, or if determined impracticable, a written plan in accordance with 40 CFR 109 that includes a written commitment of manpower, and equipment and materials required to expeditiously control and remove any quantity of oil discharged that may be harmful or considered as a hazardous waste.
Again, we are looking into this but currently understand that neither 40 CFR 112 nor 40 CFR 109 apply to Black Rock City. Black Rock City does however have a spill prevention control and containment plan already in place as a measure of good practice.
BRC must develop solutions to reduce dust events that are twice the NAAQS for PM2.5 and PM10.
The Black Rock Desert is made of compressed alkaline dust, which can be loosened by wind, people, and vehicles disturbing it year-round. Wind, a regularly-occurring weather phenomenon in Black Rock City and around the planet, will stir up dust into dust storms. The Department of Public Works already waters the streets and roads of Black Rock City, and we inform participants about the potential health effects of inhaling playa dust through our communications channels. Participants, armed with this information, are responsible for safeguarding their own personal health. Black Rock City can not mitigate the dust or the wind.
BLM Rangers and law enforcement, and the Pershing County Sheriff and Deputies routinely drive through non-designated areas repeatedly and at high speeds, causing significant, unnecessary whiteouts. The Draft EIS does not contemplate the impact of these agencies in this section or most sections of the Draft EIS.
BRC must require burn barrels for camp fires, which would be elevated at least 10 inches to prevent burn scarring.
The Draft EIS has failed to provide sufficient data to show that there are significant impacts that might need mitigations in the first place. Black Rock City has long required participants’ burn barrels to be operated and monitored safely, using physical protections that avoid heat damage to the playa surface (burn scars). For 29 years, our effective recommendation has been for fire barrels to be raised 6″ above the playa surface. We have found this to be more than sufficient to prevent burn scar damage. Raising barrels up to 10″ makes them less stable and more prone to being tipped over, while not providing any significant additional burn scar protection.
BRC will restore the playa contours by the end of the Closure Order.
BLM has not defined “playa contours” or “restore playa contours,” but as part of its regular annual Leaving No Trace efforts, Black Rock City’s Playa Restoration team runs a tactical dune-busting team that eliminates any large dunes on the event site. This is a very difficult, laborious, and time-consuming process, and one the Restoration team takes very seriously. Notably, the inclusion of a K-Rail terrorist perimeter around the event site, as required by BLM’s proposed mitigation measure PSH-3, would create a massive 10-mile-long dune (potentially two, on either side of the barriers) that would need to be eradicated, at great expense and with heavy machinery over a period of weeks or months.
BRC and the BLM must implement shielding intervention on mast-mounted work lights.
BLM has failed to demonstrate what significant impact would need to be mitigated. Furthermore, BLM has not explained what is meant by “shielding intervention on mast-mounted work lights” and research reveals no matches for these words. If we assume this phrase refers to placing light shields above lights to limit upward light pollution, then this mitigation for Black Rock City is not supported by the analysis. Work lights, and the full light from them, are necessary for safety during nighttime work shifts. Many artists and theme camps choose to work at night due to cooler temperatures and other factors, and BMP staff supports these efforts. “Dimming” lights potentially decreases work safety and has no demonstrable benefit to wildlife or cultural values. (Note: Tower lights used to illuminate work sites generally have lights heads that can be angled — and head units that only emit light on one side — like a flashlight. BRC is unsure what further shielding would achieve given the default construction of the industry standard equipment.) The whole of this mitigation is befuddling.
BRC will negotiate with Washoe County to provide cost recovery for maintenance of CR 34 associated with Event traffic.
This proposed mitigation is beyond the scope of BLM’s authority. County Route 34 is a county-maintained road that was designed and built in the early 1970s to last 30-40 years, according to Washoe County records. It has surpassed its expected lifespan with year-round traffic from residents, land owners, businesses, law enforcement, tourists, tribes, ranchers, and nature lovers. Burning Man event traffic adds considerably to the use of CR 34 during summer months. State and county fuel taxes are imposed on drivers to pay for road maintenance. Burning Man staff and participants have paid millions of dollars into this fund over the years when they purchase fuel in Nevada on the way to and from the playa.
Black Rock City has been working closely and successfully with Washoe County for several years behind the scenes to measure and study CR 34, and to understand options and costs for replacing sections of the road between Gerlach and 17 miles north where it turns to gravel at Jackson Lane. Because the road will need replacing, not just repairing, we have been working collaboratively to find a permanent solution instead of a temporary fix, and we believe we may have done just that. BLM’s Draft EIS ignores the work Washoe County and BRC have done together and instead imposes a command and control solution that Washoe County did not suggest and does not support.
Does the National Park Service make visitors pay local governments for road repair? No.
Through initiatives like the Burner Express Bus, incentivizing carpooling through our vehicle pass program, and expanding capacity of the BRC Airport, Black Rock City has worked diligently and successfully with the Nevada Department of Transportation, Nevada Highway Patrol, Washoe County, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to reduce traffic on the roads leading to Black Rock City. We believe that mandated cost recovery above and beyond those efforts is excessive and that this proposed requirement goes far beyond the scope and authority of NEPA.
National Conservation Areas
BRC must post a reclamation bond sufficient to remove large art installations and theme camps left behind after Exodus. This bond is intended to remove the risk of unnecessary or undue degradation to the NCA and defray the costs to taxpayers.
Since 1998, only one project has had serious trouble leaving the playa at the end of the event. That project left the Burning Man event closure area just days after the event ended (while projects were still allowed to be on site dismantling), and left shallow, temporary tracks in the playa surface within the Burning Man closure area. BLM subsequently charged the producers of that project directly for the costs BLM incurred as a result of the Special Recreation Permit they were issued. No taxpayers were harmed.
BLM can not remove the risk of unnecessary or undue degradation to the NCA outside of the Burning Man event closure area by charging Black Rock City a bond, and they have conflated the actions of a separate party with BRC’s responsibilities under our permit. BLM has failed to provide data significant enough to justify this proposed mitigation. Black Rock City has passed every Site Inspection on time, well within our environmental stipulations, even under duress of severe weather, dust storms, and playa flooding. We believe this bond is unnecessary, unjustified, arbitrary, and capricious.
The BLM will provide permittees with car passes for easy transit across the playa.
Burning Man Project already does this. We worked with BLM and other user groups to provide BLM permittees with car passes for easy transit across the playa through our closure order. We have gone above and beyond to accommodate rocketeer groups and ranchers, including erecting signs for them, to ensure their shared use of the area during our closure order.
BRC must educate and discourage participants from disturbing, harassing, feeding, or watering wildlife.
BRC must educate and encourage participants to report wildlife if found at the event.
BRC will provide noxious weed and fire education safety information to participants.
BRC must educate participants of the Nobles Trail through production and dissemination of pamphlets, showing trail maps on the front and trail facts on the reverse to be distributed at the Event.
Through the website, social media, and other means approved by the BLM, BRC will inform staff volunteers, vendors and contractors and Event participants that collection, excavation, or vandalism of historical/archeological artifacts or sites is illegal.
While Black Rock City is happy to share information provided by BLM and advocate on behalf of the environment, BLM has failed to show direct significant impacts from the Burning Man event related to these five proposed mitigations and is abdicating its responsibility for public education about public lands to Black Rock City. This type of education is part of BLM’s federally-mandated mission. We pay 3% of our gross revenue to BLM — over $1 million per year on top of $3.5 million in permit fees and cost reimbursement — and they are required to use those funds in service of the National Conservation Area (NCA), including public education. BLM also have a large, fully staffed interpretive camp on the playa, centrally featured for these purposes. Burning Man should not be held responsible for doing BLM’s job. It’s considerably more than disconcerting that a government entity is seeking to regulate how and through which specific channels a private entity may communicate with the public.
Monitoring: Public Health & Safety
Monitoring Measure PHS-1
The BLM will monitor illegal substance activity for the full duration of the Closure Order using contracted resources if necessary. The costs of BLM employee and contracted labor will be recouped via cost recovery from the proponent.
BLM is trying to use the National Environmental Policy Act to place surveillance on Burning Man staff and participants while they are working and recreating on public lands. BLM personnel do not go on rafting trips to “monitor” the behavior of operators and clients on BLM managed lands. This mitigation is seriously overreaching.
Monitoring Measure PHS-2
The BLM will monitor the effectiveness of perimeter barriers (e.g., Jersey Barriers and K-rail fencing) from the time of installation until removed.
See above discussion outlining the preposterous foundation of this recommendation for barriers.
For the last two years, BLM has said that they are going to reduce their staffing and that BLM should not be involved in the running of a private event. Now BLM appears to be ignoring our capabilities and track record and instead assuming responsibility for watching the BRC operation 24 hours a day for the duration of closure order, an unprecedented requirement in Burning Man’s history or the history of BLM permitting operators on public lands. We have been assured time and again by the BLM Authorized Officer that BLM is not interested in escalating the agency’s operations on site and that their rightful role is top level assurance that the playa is returned after use according to our inspection guidelines. This recommendation from BLM is inconsistent with any actual data from history or analysis in the Draft EIS. Now they want to waste time and our money monitoring the installation of an absurd 9-mile Jersey barrier?
Monitoring Measure PHS-5
The BLM will monitor effectiveness of BRC’s and the BLM’s environmental and vending compliance programs.
We have worked for years internally and with BLM to ensure the effectiveness of our environmental and vending compliance programs. These programs are extremely successful and run by Black Rock City, as they should be. We have learned from the current BLM Authorized Officer that this language disguises BLM’s real intent, which is to catch people mid-act instead of assessing overall performance afterwards. This mitigation makes no sense and could lead to a situation where BLM would cite someone for failure to provide secondary fuel containment if they just arrived on playa and, in the act of unpacking, places their fuel can on the ground while they unload the secondary container.
Monitoring Measure WHS-1
The BLM will review the effectiveness of the required dumpsters in reducing litter in and around the Event site, including SR 447, during the Closure Order for 7 days after Labor Day.
See above discussion outlining the unsupported foundation of this recommendation for dumpsters.
Black Rock City already monitors litter in and around the event site, and on SR 447 for the entire duration of the closure order. In fact, we’re out there on foot and in vehicles picking up litter along the roads for two weeks after Labor Day, including picking up other people’s trash — year-round users including residents, land owners, truck drivers, businesses, law enforcement, tourists, tribes, ranchers, and nature lovers. This is our duty and our gift to nearby communities and the users of these public roads. We already have inspection standards for the event site and have passed them every year. Let our teams continue doing their excellent work. Dumpsters will not improve anything.
Monitoring Measure WHS-4
The BLM will audit the effectiveness of roadside cleanup by BRC along SRs 445, 446, and 447 and CR 34 post-Event.
See WHS-1 above.
Monitoring Measure AQ-2
The BLM or BLM-approved contractor will monitor dust aerosols during the Closure Order. The costs of BLM employee and contractor labor will be recouped via cost recovery from the proponent.
We want to make one thing perfectly clear: the proponent (in this case the Burning Man organization) pays for EVERYTHING. Every penny BLM spends related to Burning Man comes from us and you. The cover page of this Draft EIS saying BLM paid $280,000? Wrong. We paid that. Last year we even reimbursed a BLM law enforcement officer for his Smart Cart at the airport. Plus 23% extra for administrative processing of his expense.
Having been on the playa for 30 years, we are confident that the dust in this ancient lakebed is not going away and that wind is not predictable. Why would BLM suddenly need BRC to pay for a vendor to say it is dusty? Good question.
Monitoring Measure VIS-1
The BLM will implement monitoring measure of the Burning Man Event Night Skies Study (Craine and Craine 2017). The costs of BLM employee and contractor labor will be recouped via cost recovery from the proponent.
This entire response is based on a single data point totalling less than 1 second in a five year period. BRC has already confirmed the inadequacy of this analysis with a third party subject matter expert. The lack of real, provable, sustained, repeated impact causes this BLM requirement to collapse. Here too is another example of BLM’s proposed massively increased presence and excessive operational oversight.
Monitoring Measure VIS-4
The BLM will monitor to ensure high-energy lasers and large lights (e.g., spotlights) are not used during the Event.
See VIS-1 above. This requirement is based on highly-questionable scientific analysis, and it leaves the BLM open to stop almost any light source they want. There is no definition in any of the specifications at all, and there is no statistically significant impact to warrant this new requirement.
Monitoring Measure TRAN-1
The BLM will install traffic counters at 12-Mile and Gate Road 14 days before Labor Day, and they will remain in operation until 7 days after Labor Day. The costs of the equipment and BLM employee labor will be recouped via cost recovery from the proponent.
NDOT already installed counters on SR447, and BMP scans all vehicles coming into Black Rock City. Why must BMP pay for an external vendor or additional agency to validate work already undertaken by the state of Nevada and BMP? The Draft EIS analysis does not provide evidence of impacts to warrant this unnecessary operation and expenses.
Monitoring Measure REC-3
The BLM will monitor and assess visitor use numbers, patterns, and activities, and determine if desired experiences are being achieved.
How will BLM conduct this monitoring and assessment? Does the Bureau of Land Management have the expertise or mandate from Congress to judge or establish what a desired experience is and whether or not it is achieved at a private event?
Top photo by Ron Worobec