By Selwyn Harris
Roughly one week after the Pahrump Town Board gave its blessing to a Burning Man festival at the Pahrump Fairgrounds site, the event was unceremoniously canceled.
Billed as a regional, miniature Burning Man, the four-day festival was set to occur over the Memorial Day weekend. Organizer Dirk Schmidhofer said at least two Nye County ordinances not discussed during planning stages abruptly put the brakes on it all.
“The ordinance was regarding dust abatement. You could either pave the area, or put down gravel. Just paying attention to our legal counsel, we received some guidance that we probably could not comply with that ordinance at the location the way things currently are there. We have a board and we all voted on that and decided that we would be better off probably not pushing that and it was also recommended by legal counsel and that’s the primary reason,” he said.
The organizer said the fairgrounds would have been an ideal location for the event.
“It would have worked for us, for what we call a regional burn, which is a small burn. The one up north, the big Burning Man attracts 56,000 people. We were at about 350 to 400 people with the regional event,” he said.
Nye County’s Air Quality Control Officer George Bernath said he informed Schmidhofer of laws pertaining to dust abatement in Nye County.
“I told him if vehicles are parking on the grounds, there needs to be at least two inches of gravel put down. If they’re not parked on the paved parking lot, they need to have two inches of gravel under them. Water is a requirement beforehand, but in order for them to park vehicles on it, it needs to have two inches of gravel. If you are going to generate dust, you need to control it,” he said.
Town Board Chair Harley Kulkin, who championed the event, said he made every effort to bring the festival to Pahrump, but the timing became an issue.
“We were rushing to get this thing through so they can get out there and start selling their tickets to make this a successful event. I think that this thing could have grown into something pretty big. It would have been a significant revenue enhancer for our community. It’s a tragedy what happened. It really is,” he said.
Kulkin also commented on the possibility of inviting the festival back in the future.
“There is always the opportunity to persuade them to bring the event here next year. Boulder City didn’t make them jump through hoops. They just welcomed them with open arms and said ‘hey, you got it.’ They didn’t put them through all of that. I don’t feel our town board was that bad on them because we did approve it,” he said.
Local resident John Pawlak has been to numerous Burning Man events over the years.
The self-proclaimed “Burner” said he was surprised and disheartened by news of the cancellation.
He noted that the event has been demonized by some area residents who are not at all familiar with the festival.
“It seems ironic that certain individuals in this town can demonize and prejudge the folks at the regional Burning Man group who were asked to come to our town at our request and then define them as homosexuals, nudists, drug addicts, hedonists and so forth. Are we blind when we in fact have all of those traits and more as a community , but we choose to hide those facts from the general public? Maybe we don’t have the nudism, but we have our brothels, swingers’ club, drug addicts, meth labs, plus we carry guns. We continue to slam shut the door on change here in town. If we are to make this a better place to live, we’re going to have to start someplace. We constantly complain of nothing to do here and when something or someone comes knocking at our door to begin the process, we shut it in their face,” he said.
Schmidhofer, meanwhile, said he thought the town was fair when listening to his presentation, even though discussions appeared to be contentious during the last town board meeting.
“I’m not sure if I felt like I was being grilled. They asked some pretty pointed questions. I felt they were looking after their constituents and looking out for their neighborhood because they didn’t want some disorganized band of people coming in and perhaps not conducting themselves or the festival in an appropriate manner,” he said.
He also addressed rumors that the festival would have brought about a certain degree of debauchery.
“There’s always comments about any kind of event like that. Like the Burning Man up north, if you get 50,000 people together, there’s going to be some exhibitionists,” he said.
The day following the town board’s approval for the event, tickets were to go on sale online.
Schmidhofer said he wisely chose to hold off on the sales.
“We were set and ready to launch that. It’s just a website that we have and we do this every year and everything is already assembled and the website is already in place. We just had to push the go button, but we chose not to do that until we actually had a signed agreement with Pahrump. We did not sell any tickets. We did not put the tickets up for sale,” he said.
In a press release, Town Manager Bill Kohbarger said there were other reasons that Schmidhofer declined to hold the festival in Pahrump.
“The Burning Man board read the ‘Blogs’ around Pahrump and was upset that they were being called drug users, Satan worshipers, nudists, and a freak show. Nye County advised Mr. Schmidhofer that they must submit a plan to obtain a dust control permit, which would most likely require them to place two inches of gravel on the property where vehicles will be traveling and/or parked. A Nye County Sheriff’s Office representative contacted Burning Man advising them that everyone who gave away alcohol needed to obtain a liquor permit through their office. It is a common practice at the Burning Man for those who attend the event to possess and give away alcohol to others of legal drinking age.
“Considering the time constraints Mr. Schmidhofer faced for producing a May event, it is understandable that the decision was made not to accept our invitation to host it in Pahrump for 2013. While we understand their concerns, the town regrets their decision, but is hopeful that these issues can be resolved to their satisfaction and that they will consider Pahrump for their 2014 event. We believe this event can be a success being hosted during 2014 in Pahrump, and that it is one we intend to pursue for the positive tourism and economic development impact it will have for the community,” the release stated.