The Coastal Commission unanimously approved the first steps of State Parks’ five-year plan to control dust from the Oceano Dunes, after hearing hours of testimony Wednesday at a meeting in Cambria from both Nipomo Mesa residents who said the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect public health and from Dunes users who want to protect their access.
State Parks this spring will fence off 20 acres of a current riding area for revegetation, install 40 acres of 4-foot-tall wind fencing, close off a 3-acre experimental area and install other operational controls in attempt to reduce the plumes of dust that Nipomo Mesa residents say severely impacts their air quality and health.
Not all commissioners were satisfied with the plan. Commissioner Steve Padilla said he is skeptical that State Parks will achieve the kind of mitigation that is needed for public health and suggested that the commission needs to review the underlying permit for the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area to determine if the location is appropriate.
“I really hear the voices of the people who are having adverse air quality and health impacts loud and clear. And with all due respect to the recreators and the people who like to camp,” Padilla said, “that doesn’t outweigh public health benefits or environmental damage. That is not at the same level at all.”
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He asked to see quantifiable measurements of the dust mitigation actions, because if they’re not having effects, “I’m going to be the first guy at this table screaming bloody murder that it’s time to get that permit review in front of us and then really tackle the fundamental problem.”
The motion to approve the plan was brought by Commissioner Erik Howell of Pismo Beach, who pointed to Air Pollution Control Officer Gary Willey’s support of the plan as reason to approve.
Willey said this is just the first step to control dust and relieve air quality for downwind residents in the Nipomo Mesa, as a Air Pollution Control District Hearing Board may order additional closures as soon as March.
Still, Nipomo Mesa residents likened the plan to “kicking the can down the road,” as demonstrated by a resident who literally kicked a can that was labeled “public health.”