Nipomo Mesa residents urge county air board to control Oceano Dunes dust

Finding a way to control sand blowing off Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area took on a sense of urgency Wednesday as dozens of Nipomo Mesa residents urged the county air board to make protecting their health the highest priority.

County Air Pollution Control District directors approved an agreement with State Parks to develop a dust control strategy for the off-road park amid protests — some angry — that the process is too bureaucratic and is moving too slowly.

Mesa residents have repeatedly told air board directors that they suffer from chronic sinus and bronchial infections and asthma due to dust clouds blowing off the Dunes.

A study released earlier this year showed a clear connection between off-highway vehicle riding in the Dunes and unhealthy particulate pollution on the Mesa. The study concluded that the main cause of this is destruction of a crust that forms on undisturbed dunes.

“The people of the Mesa don’t want to be studied to death,” Mesa resident Jane Maxwell said.

Many on the air board agreed and pressured State Parks officials to have a pilot dust-control program in place in Oceano by March. Spring is the windiest time of year, as prevailing northwesterly winds kick up the most sand particles, which are carried onto the Mesa.

“I think we need to get some action on the ground now,” county Supervisor Jim Patterson said.

Phil Jenkins, state OHV Division director, said the department would try to move as quickly as possible on the particulate control plan, including establishing a pilot dust-control program by spring. He could offer no guarantees, however, due to the state’s ongoing budget crisis.

“I’m asking you to trust us,” Jenkins said.

Under a schedule laid out by Larry Allen, county air pollution control officer, the dust-control strategy would not be finalized until September of next year. One sticking point is the hiring of a particulate pollution scientist who would function as a technical adviser.

State Parks has agreed to pay the fee of this technical adviser, which could run as high as $100,000. However, making such a budget allocation could take as long as six months, Jenkins said.

The state could speed up the process somewhat by looking within state universities. One possibility is Thomas Cahill, a particulate pollution expert with UC Davis who has served as an adviser to the air district.

The meeting ended with the air district and state parks agreeing to move ahead as quickly as possible on hiring the technical adviser and getting a dust control program in place. Revegetation of the dunes and installation of wind fences are two possible mitigation measures recommended by Cahill.

“I’m expecting a good faith effort on this,” a frustrated county Supervisor Frank Mecham said. “I think this is a case of bureaucracy at its worst.”

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.