The California Department of State Parks will plant vegetation and add more dust control measures like wind fencing and hay bales on the Oceano Dunes, in an effort to reduce the spread of dust that creates hazardous air conditions on the Nipomo Mesa.
The California Coastal Commission approved a five-year plan on Sept. 14 for State Parks to implement dust mitigation efforts that would theoretically reduce and control dust emissions on high wind days at the park.
For years, residents of the Nipomo Mesa have claimed that dust from the Dunes has negatively impacted their health, causing everything from asthma to cancer and forcing residents to stay inside.
Off-roading enthusiasts, meanwhile, have conversely emphasized the importance of preserving the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, the last remaining beach you can drive off-highway vehicles at in California, and claimed that dust mitigation efforts contribute to the ever-decreasing size of the park.
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In 2011, the hotly controversial topic spurred the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District to implement Rule 1001 (colloquially known as the “Dust Rule”), calling for State Parks to monitor air quality at both the “high-emission” off-roading areas and protected areas of the park, and keep them within a certain measure of each other via dust mitigation efforts.
Since then, acting under an emergency permit, the park has added acres of wind fencing and hay bales to help prevent dust from spreading, among other mitigations.
At the Coastal Commission meeting on Thursday, many said that those efforts on their own haven’t been enough.
“The temporary controls put in place for the emergency permit process have not been effective really at all,” Air Pollution Control District officer Larry Allen said. “Today, six years after we adopted the rule, there’s not one acre of effective dust mitigation in place in any of the riding areas, any of the park.”
To combat this, State Parks and commission staff agreed to an expanded five-year program that would aim to temporarily control and reduce dust emissions.
The program would:
▪ Plant 20 acres of native vegetation per year
▪ Deploy 40 acres of seasonal dust control measures from March to September in the SVRA; this would include wind fencing, straw bales, porous roughness elements, and potentially non-toxic soil stabilizer
▪ Potentially plant trees downwind of the SVRA; these could provide for some long-term control of dust emissions
▪ Install and maintain dust and meteorological monitors to investigate and evaluate dust levels and control measure effectiveness
▪ Install grooved concrete at Pismo State Beach exits on Grand Avenue in Grover Beach and Pier Avenue in Oceano.
The program would also continue the park’s existing mitigation efforts like deploying sand fencing upwind of Grand Avenue, Pier Avenue and Strand Way and operating existing monitoring stations.
Some of those attending Thursday’s meeting opposed the program, saying the proposed mitigations would cut into parts of the recreational off-roading area and reduce the space available to ATVs and dune buggies.
“This is death by a thousand fenceposts,” said Jim Suty, president of Friends of Oceano Dunes. “The park is continually declining. That’s not fair to us. That’s not fair to all involved.”
State Parks Acting Deputy Director Mathew Fuzie said the program was a short-term solution to the dust problem, while the state works toward a more comprehensive solution in the future.
Though the commission did ultimately approve the program, commissioners were quick to note that they hope for a more permanent fix to the ongoing dust concerns in the near future.
“Five years is not short to someone who is dying,” commission Chair Dayna Bochco said. “We are upset because we are seeing people suffer, and we don’t understand why when we see the scientists, when we see the people from the air board that know what to do, that nothing is getting done.”