Burning Man Organizers May Challenge Permit Ruling

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Organizers of the annual Burning Man festival said they'll go to court if necessary for permission to use 200 acres they own near the Black Rock Desert as a permanent staging area.

Washoe County commissioners on Tuesday denied permits to use the
property about 100 miles north of Reno as a storage and staging area that organizers bought two years ago.

Dubbed Black Rock Station, the 200-acre staging area was proposed in Hualapai Valley, about 10 miles from the desert playa where the actual Burning Man event is held every Labor Day. Last summer, some 30,000 people attended the outdoor art festival.

The staging area would be used to house volunteers who erect fencing, set up toilets and build the famous 70-foot "man" that is torched at the climax of the weeklong festival.

Since 1998, staging occurred on 80 acres leased adjacent to the 200 acres purchased by Black Rock LLC in 2001. Some ranchers living near the site complained it was an unsightly junkyard and that a permanent facility would stretch water supplies and pose a fire hazard.

Before 1998, materials needed for Burning Man were hauled to Black Rock Desert but that's no longer feasible, said Larry Harvey, director of the San Francisco-based Black Rock LLC.

"To do something so ambitious, a staging area is essential," Harvey said. "We're done from being Californians who trucked the entire city over the Sierra."

Despite the setback, Harvey said the counterculture festival will go on.

He added that organizers hope to negotiate a compromise with the county but are willing to sue if necessary.

"I will confess this was a grave blow," Harvey said. "On the other hand, Burning Man will happen."

In denying the permits Tuesday, county officials said other locations for a staging area can be found that would be more appropriate, possibly closer to Gerlach or Empire or in Pershing County.

But Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell said there's no need to look for another site.

"This is a good spot and the code allows for it in the area," Goodell said. "It doesn't need to be anywhere else."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)