State Parks should drop legal fight

Despite improved relations with the county Air Pollution Control District, agency still supports lawsuit challenging emissions rules

letters@thetribunenews.comFebruary 6, 2013 

An ATV rider at the Oceano Dunes.

JOE JOHNSTON — The Tribune Buy Photo

It would be a stretch to say that State Parks and SLO County are finally on the same page when it comes to controlling dust pollution from the Oceano Dunes off-road recreation area. The state is, after all, a party to a lawsuit challenging the county’s right to control those emissions.

But there is cause for optimism. Last month, Larry Allen, chief of the county Air Pollution Control District,, reported that communications between his agency and State Parks are improving.

State Parks has agreed to speed up efforts to implement dust-control measures, Allen said, and the two agencies will work together in applying for Coastal Commission approvals. (Coastal Commission permits are needed for some projects aimed at preventing sand from drifting onto the Nipomo Mesa, such as installing wind fences and hay bales.)

State Park’s own website offers further evidence of its intent to comply with county regulations. It says, in part, that it’s proposing to install monitoring equipment and dust control measures at the Oceano Dunes “to provide information on the dynamics of dust generation … to help limit high levels of suspended particulate matter … and also to comply with SLO County Air Pollution Control District Rule …”

So why is the state also investing time and energy in a court battle challenging the legitimacy of that dust rule?

Specifically, State Parks has signed on as a party in interest to a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Oceano Dunes, a pro off-roading group. That organization has been highly critical of the county study that linked particulate pollution on the Nipomo Mesa to off-road recreation on the dunes.

We’re not surprised that Friends of the Oceano Dunes would be suspicious of any effort to further regulate the off-road park.

It’s disappointing, though, that the state would take such an adversarial position.

This is an excellent opportunity for the state to neutralize some of the opposition to the Oceano Dunes OHV park.

Complying with county requirements would demonstrate that State Parks is prepared to minimize the effects on surrounding communities as much as possible. That seems especially urgent in view of recent air monitoring results that show the plume of dust from the dunes sometimes travels as far as Santa Maria.

Continuing to fight the county would only serve to further alienate those living downwind, who have reason to worry that their health is being compromised.

We strongly urge State Parks to continue to work cooperatively with county Air Pollution Control and, should the legal battle drag on, to back out of the fight.

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