County sets Dunes meeting

The county Air Pollution Control District will have its first formal discussion Wednesday of a controversial study linking Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area with high levels of air pollution on the Nipomo Mesa.

County Air Pollution Control Officer Larry Allen is not recommending that any action be taken at the meeting. Instead, the board is scheduled to hear a report on the study and take public comment.

“I expect the board to give us direction to do something,” Allen said. “But our goal at this meeting is just to deal with what the study says.”

The study finds a direct scientific link between all-terrain vehicle riding at the state park and unhealthy levels of particulate pollution downwind on the Nipomo Mesa. A lack of vegetation in the park coupled with ATVs breaking up a crust that naturally forms on top of sand dunes are identified as the main reasons strong offshore winds are able to pick up small sand particles and blow them inland.

The study has attracted a great deal of attention from people on both sides of the issue since it was released last month. More than 130 people attended an informational workshop March 3 in Arroyo Grande.

Allen said he expects to appear before the board at a later date with proposals about how to reduce the dust pollution coming from the Dunes.

“To be honest, we’ve been so busy trying to pull the study together and deal with all the reaction that we are not prepared to make recommendations to the board at this point,” he said.

The county faces increased state and federal oversight and must submit a plan that outlines how it will meet air pollution standards. Currently, air on the Mesa violates health standards by as many as a quarter of the days in any given year.

“We are required to take whatever action necessary to deal with the problem,” Allen said. “Now that we have an idea of the cause, we will have to develop some kind of plan to reach attainment.”Various local governmental agencies have already responded to the study.

The county Health Commission has voted to urge the Board of Supervisors to take “any and all” steps within its power to revegetate and stabilize the state park. However, the Pismo Beach and Grover Beach city councils have sent letters to the air board urging that it do nothing until the California Department of Parks and Recreation has a chance to react.

Communities around the park are concerned that any restrictions on riding would reduce tourism and hurt them financially. Conversely, some residents of the Mesa say dust blowing off the park is giving them bronchitis and other respiratory ailments.

The county Air Pollution Control District is composed of all five county supervisors as well as a representative from each of the county’s seven municipalities.

Meeting next week

The county Air Pollution Control District board will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the County Government Center, supervisors’ chambers, 1055 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo. The particulate study is the only item on the agenda.