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Building Burning Man
The Official Journal of the Burning Man Project - Winter 1999 Newsletter

Editor: Larry Harvey
Production Manager: Marian Goodell
Asst. Production Manager: Miz Jewelz
Art Director: Surferbetty
Contributing Writers: Maid Marian, Darryl Van Rhey :
Proofreader: M. Perrow
Printing: Scott Pratt & Curtiss Printing
Thanks: Rusty Blazenhoff printing
Illustrations: Rod Garrett

The Cost of Survival: Increasing Fees
The cost of producing Burning Man is about to go up. New regulations have changed the way in which the Bureau of Land Management, our federal landlord, assesses the fee we pay for our use of the Black Rock Desert. Previously, we've paid for services we have received. This includes the cost to the government of processing our permit. It also pays for personnel who supervise our event and monitor our cleanup. Using this "cost recovery" method, the BLM charged Burning Man approximately $67,000 in 1999. The new formula will calculate our fee according to the number of people who attend our event each day. Burning Man in 2000 will be charged $4 per-person-per-day. This is an enormous increase. Assuming that the average stay of the 23,400 participants at Burning Man in 1999 was four days, the resultant charge to Burning Man would have equaled more than a third of a million dollars! Here is the math: $4 X 4 days X 23,400 participants = $374,000. Compared with cost recovery, this increases our fee nearly 560%. Furthermore, this is especially burdensome because we have always urged participants to arrive at Burning Man early and expect this trend to continue. Since the overall number of people attending the event will also increase in 2000, Burning Man may be required to pay a fee that approaches two-thirds of a million dollars!

about this photo
Whether this new policy is fair to Burning Man is a legitimate question. Smaller and short-term recreational events can more easily absorb these increased charges. Moreover, our impact on the Black Rock Desert is carefully confined to a very small portion of the desert playa, a zone bereft of artifacts and life forms. We carefully clean our event site every year and, beyond the limited confines of our city, Burning Man has little or no effect on the surrounding environment. Smaller groups of recreationists who range more freely in the landscape can produce a much greater impact. In fact, the amount of money that will be collected from Burning Man in 2000 is not in any way related to actual costs that are generated by our use of the desert. This is, instead, a kind of rental fee that will profit the government enormously. It is the result of a policy decision by the Department of the Interior, and its essential purpose is to generate revenue.

We do, however, hope to gain more services in return for this money. Furthermore, The BLM, unlike a private landlord, is charged with the long-term care of public land. The money that is gained from Burning Man will be retained within the local district in which our event is held and it will be used to protect the environment. Our event and its participants will now become the principle benefactors of the Black Rock Desert! We will continue to work cooperatively with state and local representatives of the BLM to ensure that this money is used for the benefit of everyone. The real problem we must now face as we confront this sudden increase in cost is the social impact that it could have on Black Rock City.

Our Ticket Price
The original Black Rock City was a small informal village of 80 people. There were no medical services, no communication systems, and no elaborate social or physical infrastructure. Throughout the intervening years, Black Rock City has grown into a 4 square-mile metropolis and the Burning Man project has become a year-round undertaking. The many needs of our community have inevitably increased costs, and, in order to meet these needs, we have gradually increased ticket prices. In 1997 we conducted an Internet survey and discovered that a majority of Burning Man participants were willing to pay a considerably higher price.

Many of these participants urged us to increase this price dramatically in order to discourage casual visitors. For these individuals, a ticket represents the smallest fraction of the sum they spend preparing for the desert. We have, however, chosen to raise our ticket prices by small increments, and we have always offered tickets at a bargain price at the beginning of the year.