Burning Man fee battle heats up

Since Burning Man started going big in the late 90s, the relationship between Burners and their rural Nevada hosts has never been smooth like, say, The Playa of Black Rock City.

The annual trek into rural Nevada could seem like a bad situation comedy, sort of a reverse-Beverly Hillbillies: Thousands of jalopies packed with city slickers invade the dusty, moribund wide-open spaces found exclusively in the middle of nowhere.

The latest bump in the dusty road is a response from Nevada’s Pershing County to a lawsuit filed in August by Burning Man organizers over ballooning official fees.

Black Rock City LLC filed suit in August after Pershing County officials doubled 2011’s $170,000 policing fee to a steep $450,000 for 2012. Their lawsuit claimed fees for the 2013 event could rocket as high as $800,000.

The increases come even though attendance at the festival has been capped near 50,000 since 2010.

In their latest filing Monday, Pershing County stood firm behind their demands for increased fees, writing that local authorities maintain policing and legal juridiction — and deserve reimbursement — even though the event is held on federal land.

Burning Man organizers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2006 to cover expenses for the Pershing County Sheriff. 2006’s $66,000 fee has exploded to $450,000 in 2012 — and could nearly double again for 2013.

In addition, Burners — on their own and through Black Rock City LLC, the organization behind Burning Man — contribute millions of dollars to the economy of Pershing County, Nev., nearby towns, and the surrounding area.

Proceeds from sales of ice and coffee in Black Rock City — the only items permitted for sale — are donated by organizers to charities and schools in the surrounding area.

Without relief from excessive local fees, organizers say they may need to seek out a new wide-open space to stage the massively-popular event.