Oceano Dunes enthusiasts sue air board on dust rule

Group disputes study that links off-road riding to unhealthy air on Nipomo Mesa

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJanuary 11, 2012 

A group of off-highway vehicle users has sued the county Air Pollution Control District in an effort to overturn a new rule controlling dust emissions from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Friends of Oceano Dunes filed the lawsuit Jan. 4 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. It asks the court to throw out the dust rule adopted by the air district’s Board of Directors on Nov. 16 and prevent its implementation.

The case has been assigned to Judge Charles S. Crandall.

The rule requires implementation of dust control measures in portions of the state riding park in which vehicle activity occurs. It allows State Parks to be fined up to $1,000 a day if dust emissions from the park exceed natural background levels.

Friends of Oceano Dunes is a group of off-highway vehicle enthusiasts. The lawsuit says the group represents 28,000 members and park users. The air district, its board of directors and the county Board of Supervisors are listed as defendants.

The lawsuit cites many of the same issues brought up during the months leading to the adoption of the controversial rule. Primary among these is the contention that a scientific study that linked off-road riding to unhealthy dust levels on the Nipomo Mesa is flawed.

Specifically, the suit alleges that the study failed to support an assertion that OHV riding breaks up a crust that forms on top of the Dunes, thereby allowing tiny sand particles to become more easily airborne on windy days. It also notes that blowing dust was how the Dunes were formed.

“High wind events disturb all of the dunes at Oceano Dunes SVRA, not just areas where OHV riding occurs,” the lawsuit states. “Sand and dust is naturally blown from all areas, regardless of whether there is OHV riding.”

A civil lawsuit represents only one side of a disagreement.

At the public hearing when the rule was adopted, Air Pollution Control Officer Larry Allen said the study clearly showed that dust levels downwind of the riding area are significantly higher than those in similar areas downwind of nonriding areas.

The lawsuit lists the county as a defendant because the county Board of Supervisors “is the decision-making body for SLO County.” However, the air district recently separated from the county and is now an independent agency.

Deputy County Counsel Tim McNulty said he will argue to have the county dropped from the suit.

“I’m certain that the county was served in a cautious approach to pleading,” he said. The lawsuit is the second significant court action regarding Oceano Dunes since the first of the year. On Monday, a state appeals court dismissed a lawsuit by the Sierra Club to ban vehicle riding in a large county-owned part of Oceano Dunes.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service