Two multiagency committees Wednesday began the daunting task of meeting a March 1 deadline to have at least one pilot program up and running at the Oceano Dunes that will test ways to reduce unhealthy levels of dust blowing onto the Nipomo Mesa.
The two committees — a technical one and a management oversight group — consist of representatives from San Luis Obispo County, the local Air Pollution Control District and State Parks, which operates Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
The technical committee will concentrate on devising pilot projects, while the oversight committee will concentrate on administrative tasks such as developing a scope of work.
The work carries a sense of urgency. County supervisors and the air board want test projects in place by March 1, the beginning of the windy season, which runs through June.
“We’ve got to get something going here,” said county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who serves on the technical committee. “We can’t afford to let this windy season pass by without something on the ground.”
A recent study showed a link between vehicles driving on the Dunes and high particulate levels on the Mesa, although State Parks has questioned its validity. Residents of the Mesa have repeatedly complained of health problems caused by the dust.
Particulate pollution causes a variety of respiratory diseases including bronchitis and asthma. The elderly and young children are particularly vulnerable.
The technical team will begin by looking at dust control techniques used successfully in other areas, such as the Owens Valley. These most commonly consist of revegetation and installing wind fences, structures that disrupt the flow of the wind enough to allow dust particles to fall out of the air.
Some Mesa residents question the effectiveness of wind fences. Pam Dunlap said that on windy days, dust clouds roil hundreds of feet into the air over the Dunes and blow several miles inland.
The committees will face several challenges in meeting the March 1 deadline:
• Hiring an independent consultant: No one on either committee has scientific expertise pertaining specifically to fugitive dust. The consultant’s salary is to be paid by State Parks, but that is impossible until the state’s budget impasse is resolved. The county has agreed to provide some startup funds, and Nov. 1 was selected as the deadline for hiring the consultant.
• Obtaining permits: Some dust-control measures may require coastal development permits that are subject to environmental review and appeal all the way up to the state Coastal Commission.
The permitting process could take months to complete.
• Judging the effectiveness of dust-control measures: In order for a dust-control program to be scientifically valid, methods must be in place to accurately measure how much dust levels are reduced. The goal is to reduce fugitive dust to background levels.
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.