Burning Man Wins Two-Year Permit for Festival

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Burning Man organizers have won a two-year permit to stage the counterculture festival on the northern Nevada desert after facing scant opposition.

Bureau of Land Management officials said the gathering that generated considerable controversy in the past prompted few complaints this year.

"Burning Man has an excellent track record," said Dave Cooper of the BLM's Winnemucca field office. "This group teaches and practices leave no trace and other large events can learn a lot from it."

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey said it was the first time he has won a two-year permit since moving the festival from San Francisco to Nevada in 1990. He previously had to reapply for a permit every year.

"We've outlived the controversy," he said Sunday. "We've become a cultural landmark in Nevada. Every time any objections were raised we've been responsible."

Billed as the world's largest interactive art festival, the event is again expected to attract more than 30,000 people from most states and 20 countries over the week leading up to Labor Day.

Every year, organizers build a seven-square-mile encampment known as Black Rock City on a dry lake bed on the Black Rock Desert about 120 miles north of Reno. Drugs, clothes and inhibitions are optional.

In response to a string of accidents at last year's gathering, organizers are tightening restrictions on participants' airplanes and "mutant vehicles," which are similar to parade floats.

Among other new measures, organizers plan to step up enforcement of speed laws and prohibit pilots from taking pleasure flights during the festival.

Katharine Lampman, 21, of Belmont, Calif., was killed when she accidentally fell under the wheels of a "mutant vehicle."

And five people were taken to area hospitals after two plane crashes at the festival's temporary air strip. Nearly 100 planes use the strip.

"It's a tightening up of the rules for operating cars and planes," Cooper said. "They'll still be able to have fun, but they'll have to be more careful."

Black Rock City's Department of Mutant Vehicles will license and inspect the whimsical "mutant vehicles," which are described as "art on wheels." They can be both standard and non-standard motorized vehicles such as couches, beds and armchairs.

Lampman's death "makes us more aware of safety," Harvey said. "I don't want to eliminate moving vehicles on the playa. I just want better behavior by drivers."

The air space is too cramped to allow participants to take pleasure flights during the festival, he added.

Opponents think the gathering harms a unique desert landscape and results in ineffective cleanup efforts. They insist the public is being spoon-fed propaganda over an event that actually is taking a serious toll on the desert.

But BLM officials said monitoring has not identified any adverse long-term environmental effects caused by Burning Man. They said conditions in the permits require organizers to protect the environment.

"We'll continue to monitor and do research," Cooper said. "We want to find out more about the dynamics of the playa and what effect human use is having on the playa."