June 27, 2015 / 1:11 AM / 4 years ago

Requests for ice cream and flush toilets at Nevada's Burning Man stirs firestorm

(Reuters) - U.S. land managers have asked operators of Burning Man to provide them with VIP accommodations and flushable toilets in the Nevada desert during the annual counterculture festival, triggering a political firestorm on Friday.

An aerial view during the Burning Man 2014 "Caravansary" arts and music festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada is seen in this file photo taken August 27, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/Files

The demands drew the ire of two U.S. lawmakers from Nevada who described the requests, which also included a standing supply of ice cream, as excessive.

Burning Man, named for the burning of a wooden effigy that marks the climax of the week-long festival of art and free expression, brings nearly 70,000 people to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada and adds an estimated $35 million to the local economy each year.

Organizers of this year’s event, taking place from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7, say fees and facilities they have provided the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for law enforcement and other services at the event surged from under $1 million in 2011 to an anticipated $5 million this year.

This year, the bureau asked for a so-called Blue Pit lodging facility that would have restroom trailers with flushable toilets, a washer and dryer room for laundry, and VIP accommodations in so-called “container apartment” units, according to documents seen by Reuters.

They also made specific food requests, including 24-hour access to Chobani Greek Yogurt and a standalone freezer with Drumstick and Choco Taco ice cream, the documents said.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, criticized what he called “outlandishly unnecessary facilities.”

“Part of Burning Man’s philosophy is self-reliance and living with the elements is part of the experience,” Reid wrote. “Flush toilets and laundry facilities can be found about 10 miles (16 km) away in Gerlach, Nevada, if BLM’s employees need such amenities.”

U.S. Representative Mark Amodei, a Republican representing the part of Nevada where the festival is held, said in a phone interview the requests raised ethical questions and appeared to demand “the Black Rock Desert version of the Four Seasons hotel.”

Gene Seidlitz, bureau district manager in Nevada, declined immediate comment but told the Reno Gazette-Journal it was important to consider the safety of bureau personnel at the event.

“It’s safe to say that if you were working 14 to 16 hours a day in white-out conditions on the hot playa, you don’t want them to be unrested,” Seidlitz told the paper.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Lambert

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