California

Burning Man could start drug screening at all entrances, federal agency says

It’s easy to see lights of Burning Man Festival from 25 miles away

The new Fox Mountain fire camera, run by Nevada Seismo Lab, in northwest Nevada caught the lights of Burning Man Festival from 25 miles away at 10 p.m. on September 2, 2018.
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The new Fox Mountain fire camera, run by Nevada Seismo Lab, in northwest Nevada caught the lights of Burning Man Festival from 25 miles away at 10 p.m. on September 2, 2018.

For some of its participants, drug screenings at Burning Man would pretty much defeat the purpose of the 9½-day event.

But that’s one of several changes the Bureau of Land Management could implement among special recreation permit requirements in the near future of the event, according to an environmental impact statement released last Friday.

Drug screening at all the events’ entrance points by a third-party security company is mentioned as within the nearly 900-page, two-part impact statement by BLM.

“At all portals of entry into the Event, beginning approximately 14 days before Labor Day, BLM will contract third-party, private security to screen vehicles and participants, vendors and contractors, and staff and volunteers entering the Event,” a mitigation measure under the category of public health and safety reads. “Third-party, private security will report banned or illegal contraband or significant concerns directly to law enforcement.”

The phrase “banned or illegal contraband” replaces a crossed-out, more specific phrase: “weapons and illegal drugs.”

The impact statement comes in response to a request for a 10-year permit for the event, for 2019 through 2028. In the impact statement, BLM also denied requests by advocates to approve the event’s growth to 100,000 attendees, keeping the population cap at 80,000 for now.

The event is held each year in the days leading up to Labor Day in the Black Rock Desert, 100 miles north of Reno.

A BLM spokesperson told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the drug screening could go into effect at this year’s event, which runs Aug. 25 to Sept. 2, or in 2020.

Marnee Benson, Burning Man Project’s associate director of government affairs, seemed to indicate in a post she wrote for the Burning Man Journal prior to the impact statement that major changes would not be instituted at this year’s event.

“We’ve been assured by BLM that the Record of Decision will be issued in mid-July, in time for our 2019 permit to be issued, and we’re planning for NO major changes for this year’s event,” Benson wrote. “We understand that any major changes from the EIS may be contingent on population or other factors and could be phased in starting in 2020.”

Benson also wrote that there is a review and appeal period lasting 30 days from Friday’s release of the impact statement.

“We want you to know that if any egregious issues remain in the document, we will be crafting our comments and letting you know how you can participate,” Benson wrote.

Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.
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