Group sues county, State Parks to ban off-highway vehicles at Oceano Dunes

Community members complain that county and State Parks are not acting on a threat to public health

dsneed@thetribunenews.comFebruary 28, 2014 

An ATV rider kicks up sand at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.


Frustrated by what they see as a lack of progress in controlling dust blowing from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, a group of Nipomo Mesa residents has sued the county and the State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division.

The group Mesa Community Alliance filed the lawsuit Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. It asks a judge to bar off-highway vehicle riding in the Oceano Dunes until State Parks fully complies with a dust control rule adopted by the county Air Pollution Control District in November 2011.

“State Parks and the county are public agencies whose highest priority should be the protection of public health,” said Arlene Versaw, spokeswoman for the plaintiff group. “The county has taken no meaningful action whatsoever, and State Parks appears not to want to take even the smallest steps.”

The county was included as a defendant in the lawsuit because it owns the 584-acre La Grande Tract in the center of the riding area of the park. Tim McNulty with the Office of the County Counsel said he is aware of the lawsuit and plans to brief the county Board of Supervisors on it Tuesday.

“We shouldn’t discuss it in the press until we have a chance to discuss it with the board,” he said.

On windy days, dust from the park blows onto the Nipomo Mesa, where air quality frequently exceeds state standards for particulate pollution. High particulate levels have been linked to a variety of health effects including asthma and other lung problems as well as cardiovascular disease.

A scientific study conducted by the air district concluded that OHV riding contributes to the dust pollution problem. Greater levels of dust originate from the riding area of the park than from the nonriding area, the study concluded.

Brent Marshall, Oceano Dunes superintendent, said the park is making progress toward implementing dust control measures, but progress has been slow because of mediation between State Parks and state and county air officials.

“I sympathize with the frustrations of the residents,” he said. “We are hoping to move forward quicker.”

Park officials plan to test a series of dust control measures starting in March when the spring windy season begins, Marshall said. These include installing wind fencing as well as distributing 5,000 to 6,000 hay bales in a buffer area downwind of the riding area.

Both of these techniques slow the wind as it blows over open sand dunes, reducing its ability to pick up tiny sand particles and blow them into residential areas. A long-term dust control plan for the Dunes is expected to be complete in the fall.

Versaw said she is aware that dust control measures will be tested but doubts they will be effective.

“I have no reason to believe that this will be anything more than a half-hearted attempt to do anything,” she said.

The Mesa Community Alliance was formed in 2010 and is intended to advocate for issues of common interest to Nipomo Mesa residents, Versaw said. The group fought against the Nipomo Community Services District’s effort to increase property taxes through an assessment district to pay for a water pipeline project from Santa Maria.

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