State Parks lives on a flat Earth

jtarica@thetribunenews.comNovember 17, 2012 

When you identify a problem and conduct a scientific study to determine its causes, you would expect the agency tasked with carrying out mitigation efforts to actually step up and do something.

But apparently that is not the case when the subject is the Oceano Dunes and the dispute pits the pleasure of off-roaders vs. the health of residents on the nearby Nipomo Mesa.

The Air Pollution Control District board, which is the local group responsible for protecting our blue skies, seemed at wits’ end last week over the difficulty it has had in getting any kind of a productive response from State Parks regarding steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of particulate matter blowing off the Dunes.

A county study has determined that off-roading at the park is kicking up dust and contributing to poor air-quality levels that can exceed the state standards for particulates.

For the last year, the air board and State Parks supposedly have been working toward a plan to reduce that pollution, but the air board said State Parks is digging its heels in the sand, and as a result, nothing has been done so far.

So the air board hammered out a letter of protest to the state last month and is now taking its case to a higher power — namely the governor and the new State Parks director.

Speaking as someone who is 1) not a fan of dirt bikes and 2) a big fan of breathable air, I have to give a big hurrah to the air board for taking a stand against what is a far larger and more formidable state agency, and one that has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo at this cash cow of a park.

Oceano Dunes generates some good dough, and I’m sure from a financial perspective, no one at State Parks is super thrilled at the idea of any mitigation efforts that might curb those dollars — or raise the wrath of the power-sports lobby.

Nevertheless, the agency has a responsibility to deal honestly with this issue, and that means going beyond simple monitoring of what has already been determined to be a problem.

According to the draft dust-control plan submitted in September, though, that’s the step they’d prefer to take.

More monitoring. No real action. Just monitoring.

Because they hope, apparently, that something has magically changed in Oceano so that when they test the same air coming off the same sand ripped over by the same numbers of dune buggies, it will show different, lower levels of particulates.

Right. Good luck with that. I’m sure these measures will provide comfort for Nipomo residents now suffering breathing problems.

Here’s a better idea: Go ahead and continue the monitoring (additional data is always good), but also try one of the simple solutions — like laying down some lines of hay bales — and test the air quality to see what happens.

Said county Supervisor Adam Hill in assessing the state’s intransigence: “They’ve denied the science from the beginning the way the fossil fuel industry has denied climate change.”

I have to say, it sure does look that way.

And if that attitude continues in the face of additional scientific data, if State Parks bureaucrats truly want to join the Flat Earth Society, I expect the air board and others only to raise the outcry further — and pound their obstinacy into the ground.

We owe it to our citizens, whose basic health must come before someone else’s good time.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com.

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