Burning Man Lawsuit: Pershing County Fires Back Over Fee Increases

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Burning Man ran into a legal snag this week when officials in Pershing County, Nevada, asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by festival organizers last August challenging fee increases imposed on the event.

The remote Nevada county, which has hosted the world's largest countercultural festival since 1991, introduced a new ordinance earlier this year that would force Burning Man to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of increased law enforcement. Black Rock LLC, Burning Man's parent company, sued on the grounds that the event takes place on federal land and is therefore exempt from county rules.

But in paperwork filed Tuesday, Pershing County authorities argued that the county should be fairly compensated for the extensive resources devoted to Burning Man, and that the ordinance applies equally to all events that take place in the area. While Burning Man has traditionally paid Pershing County a significant annual sum to cover its expenses -- it received $170,000 in 2011 -- the new mandate will increase fees by up to $600,000 or more each year.

When the lawsuit was originally filed last summer, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey noted that the festival's mere presence contributes significantly to Pershing County's economy. “For more than 20 years, the Burning Man community has proudly made northern Nevada its home, providing millions of dollars annually to the local economy,” he said in a statement. “We love Nevada. Unfortunately, Pershing County is making it difficult to continue doing business here."

A related blog post on Burning Man's official website echoed Harvey's sentiments, explaining that "Burners" contribute millions to Nevada's coffers through traffic to Reno-Tahoe International Airport and the purchasing of local goods and services.

Pershing County District Attorney James Shirley, however, was quick to fire back. "The residents of Pershing County should not be required to flip the bill for the business conducted by a [$20 million plus] business," a statement sent to the Reno Gazette-Journal in August read.

Shirley added this week that Burning Man's contract explicitly states the organizers comply with state law, an umbrella the increased fee ordinance falls under.

Upon filing the lawsuit, Burning Man organizers implied that the new regulations threaten the festival's future in the Nevada desert. While the location of next year's event remains unclear, Burning Man spokeswoman Megan Miller didn't mince words when responding to Pershing County's motion to dismiss the suit.

"Pershing County engaged in activity that violated the First Amendment, breached their contact with Burning Man and imposed excessive fees on the Burning Man event," she said.

An estimated 52,000 attendees visited Burning Man this year. Take a look at images from the event below:

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Filed by Carly Schwartz