Born to burn

The e-mail comes from Japan: “I see it’s 100 days or so until Burning Man. Any preparations underway? Looks as though we’ll have at least a couple of players from Tokyo this year.”

The wealthy businessman appears unaware that Sunday’s Washington Post predicted a sudden end to Burning Man in the story, “Curtain May Fall on Desert Arts Festival.”

The Washington Post may have been hasty, at least according to a Burning Man e-mail list. In the e-mail, event founder Larry Harvey is quick to say that the Washoe County Commission has made it more difficult to hold the event this Labor Day, but not impossible.

“By voting to deny us special use permits for the use of our land, [the Washoe County Commissioners] not only ignored the recommendation of their own Planning Commission, they did this with the knowledge that their action would make it very difficult for us to produce our event,” Harvey wrote. “We view this as a setback, not unlike many of the challenges we have faced in the past. The good news, however, is that regardless of what the Commission eventually decides, Burning Man WILL happen in the Black Rock Desert in 2003.”

At issue before the commissioners were special-use permits issued to Burning Man organizers by the Planning Commission in April. The issuance of those permits was appealed by people who own nearby land. Essentially, the permits allowed event organizers to use property the organization has purchased for storage and volunteer housing.In a later interview, Harvey said the decision by the Washoe County Commission took him by surprise.

“We had every reason to expect to get those permits,” he said, citing national awards the organization has received for its cleanup efforts. Harvey was dismissive of charges that the Burning Man organizers are “dirty birds.”

“We are the best cleaner uppers in America.”

Harvey does not know where this recent setback will take the organization.

“I don’t want to get into a pitched battle,” he said, but it’s clear that a lawsuit is not outside the realm of possibility.

"Contrary to what the commissioners assumed," he says, "ours is a very organized event. What they have [asked us to do] is a logistical nightmare. They’re treating our city as if it were tent camping."