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Oceano Dunes dust is still a problem — and State Parks isn’t helping, air board claims

The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area is the only park in California where vehicles are allowed on the beach. Snow fences slow winds and drop airborne sand to the ground.
The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area is the only park in California where vehicles are allowed on the beach. Snow fences slow winds and drop airborne sand to the ground. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Blowing dust continues to be a problem in the Oceano Dunes and Nipomo Mesa area, and the local Air Pollution Control District says State Parks isn’t doing what it should to help reduce it.

In a letter sent to California State Parks in early May, SLO County APCD representatives said the state department hasn’t adhered to a controversial 2011 rule meant to reduce dust and address public health concerns around the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. It cited State Parks’ failure to set up extra wind fencing and its decision to remove required monitoring equipment from the area.

State Parks representatives said the department is working with the APCD to address the air quality concerns, and they attributed some of the complaints to regulatory and permitting setbacks.

If the two groups can’t reach an agreement, the state could eventually be subject to fines for the alleged violations.

The air quality board sent the May 5 letter to State Parks Deputy Director Mathew Fuzie, notifying the board that it was potentially in violation of the 2011 dust rule that required State Parks to significantly reduce the amount of dust blowing off the Oceano Dunes and onto the Mesa.

The letter identified two potential violations of the dust rule:

▪  State Parks removed a “control site monitor” near Oso Flaco Lake in December that is meant to record particulate levels for comparison with data throughout the park and on the Nipomo Mesa. It did not notify APCD of its decision to remove the monitor, which has since been replaced.

▪  State Parks didn’t install the agreed-upon length of wind fences — which help block wind and prevent the spread of dunes sand — throughout the park.

Dust — which can cause adverse health impacts such as asthma and other lung problems — has continued to be a concern in the South County.

According to Air Pollution Control Officer Larry Allen, monitors in the area have recorded 31 days since Jan. 1 when dust levels in the air exceeded state health standards.

Meanwhile, Allen said the area has also had the worst air quality in the nation during afternoon hours on more than six days in the past month.

“At the concentrations we are measuring out there, really no one should be outside,” Allen said. “It’s not fair to the people who live out there because we have people being forced to stay inside.”

Fuzie on Wednesday said State Parks is working closely with the APCD to address the potential violations, though he noted that a lot of the issues stemmed from regulatory setbacks and from previous “fundamental differences” between the two groups on how best to address air quality in the controversial dunes area.

“It’s not that black and white of a situation,” Fuzie said. “One of the base questions is how much of that is an ecological process and how much do you mitigate a natural process?”

In the meantime, Fuzie said he wants to assure residents that State Parks will try to reach an agreement with the APCD that is beneficial for everyone.

“We all want the same thing,” he said. “We all want a healthy environment and healthy air.”

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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