Programs to reduce dust on Nipomo Mesa may be tested

Pilot programs such as wind fences and dune replanting to test various ways to reduce particulate pollution on the Nipomo Mesa could be launched within a year.

The county Air Pollution Control District on Wednesday voted to develop an agreement with State Parks that outlines such steps.

The memorandum of agreement will contain specific measures that managers of Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area must take to reduce the amount of dust blowing on the Mesa from the riding park as well as timelines for implementing them.

County supervisors are also expected to sign the agreement. A draft could be ready for air board approval at its next meeting July 28.

State Parks officials struck a cooperative and conciliatory theme at Wednesday’s hearing. This contrasted with past meetings in which parks officials have questioned the validity of an air board’s report linking dune buggy riding with chronic, unhealthy dust levels on the Mesa.

“Our goal is not to discredit the report,” said Phil Jenkins, head of the department’s Off-Highway Vehicle Division.

The department’s main concern is that the report does not specify how much dust is being created by OHV riding, so it will be difficult to measure the effectiveness of any control measures, Jenkins said. However, parks officials are willing to begin developing pilot projects that will test various methods for reducing airborne dust.

One possible pilot project would be installing lengths of wind fencing surrounded by dust monitoring stations to test the fence’s effectiveness. Wind fences disrupt the flow of wind enough to cause sand particles to drop out of the wind column.

Dune replanting has also been suggested as a means of reducing blowing dust. Such test programs could be implemented within a year, depending on budgeting, Jenkins said.

Dozens of people spoke at Wednesday’s hearing. Their comments followed a familiar divide. Some pleaded with the air board to shut the park down to protect public health while others continued to question the validity of the study.

Babak Naficy, a San Luis Obispo environmental attorney, said parks officials could not be trusted to adhere to a memorandum of agreement. He and others encouraged the board to take a tougher approach and impose dust abatement rules on the park.

“This is a serious health concern that is likely to become a liability issue,” said Mesa resident Katrina Dolinsky.

Jim Suty of San Jose, president of Friends of Oceano Dunes, said the particulate study was an attempt by the Sierra Club to shut down the OHV park. He called the board’s actions a “rush to judgment.”

Craig Angelo of Oceano, whose family operates an OHV rental business in the park, encouraged cooperation in order to avoid disruptions in visitors to the park.

“Any shutdown would cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.