Efforts to curb dust blowing inland from the Oceano Dunes continue to be a contentious issue as a divided San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control Board on Thursday approved a new set of fees to cover the cost of overseeing the dust-control program.
The board voted 7-4 to approve nearly $50,000 in annual fees to be paid by the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. The bulk of the fees will cover costs by the air district to operate an air-quality monitoring station at the Cal Fire station on the Nipomo Mesa, where high levels of dust blowing from the state park are frequently detected.
The item drew a testy exchange between county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, a supporter of the dust rule, and Ed Waage of the Pismo Beach City Council, a critic of it. Waage questioned the effectiveness of the Nipomo Mesa air-monitoring station, saying it is likely recording dust from the riding area of the park along with non-riding areas and Highway 1.
Gibson interrupted Waage’s questions, saying they were off topic and an attempt to undermine the scientific validity of the dust rule. Board Chairwoman Roberta Fonzi of the Atascadero City Council had to gavel the meeting back to order.
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When the board voted, the new fees passed with favorable votes from Joe Costello of Arroyo Grande, Gibson, John Hamon of Paso Robles, Supervisor Adam Hill, Jan Marx of San Luis Obispo, Supervisor Frank Mecham and Noah Smukler of Morro Bay.
Waage, Fonzi, Debbie Peterson of Grover Beach and Supervisor Debbie Arnold voting against the measure. They said they would prefer a memorandum of understanding between the air district and State Parks, rather than a new annual fee.
Christopher Conlin, deputy director of the state’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division, said State Parks is continuing to work with air board staff to comply with the dust rule and find ways to minimize blowing sand, including re-vegetation of some areas of the park.
Several air board members said they have toured Oceano Dunes to see some of the work being done there. Others said they are interested in touring it in the future as long as the tour complied with the state’s open-meeting rules.
The board is scheduled to meet again Sept. 25.