State Parks to study Oceano Dunes wind

State Parks is independently installing five 30-foot towers to measure wind at the Oceano Dunes, a move that activists fighting air pollution there call an end run around the county’s air pollution study.

“They don’t like the results” of the study conducted and vetted at public hearings by the county’s Air Pollution Control District, said Katrina Dolinsky, who, with neighbors on the Nipomo Mesa, has been fighting to improve air quality.

She said State Parks studying wind at the Oceano Dunes state park is “like a pharmaceutical company doing an in-house study.”

Ronnie Glick, an environmental scientist with State Parks, says it is “ludicrous” to characterize its studies as an attempt to undermine the county’s work. He calls them a supplement to the county, necessary because there is “an incomplete understanding” of wind patterns.

If, however, “there are results that call into question the assumptions (of the county), that will have to be addressed,” he said.

“There are detractors who see something sinister in anything we do,” Glick added.

The county study concluded that off-road vehicles contribute to particulate matter blowing on to the Nipomo Mesa, creating a health hazard. Off-roading activists, as well as State Parks, have questioned the thoroughness of the study, even as those who conducted it defend it as being scientifically accurate and peer-reviewed.

The studies play out against a backdrop of high-stakes finance.

Off-roaders fear the county study will be used ultimately to curtail or even eliminate their activities at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. South County business leaders fear the loss of a multimillion-dollar activity, while those who oppose off-roading say a more environmentally friendly activity might still bring in money.

In that context, the state, the county Board of Supervisors and the county Air Pollution Control District have agreed to seek ways to curtail the health hazards created by the sand and wind.

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who sits on the Air Pollution Control District board with the other four supervisors, said the three agencies have agreed to move toward that goal.

However, Gibson added, the formal agreement “doesn’t put forward the idea of a second study.”

Aeron Arlin-Genet, Air Pollution Control District outreach supervisor, said the district did not recommend another study. “We don’t want to have any second-guessing going on,” she said.

Nonetheless, five towers received the go-ahead Dec. 3 at a Planning Department hearing. At these hearings, as well as those of the equally little-known subdivision review board, county planners pass judgment on matters that are considered too inconsequential to go to the full Planning Commission.

Dolinsky said she and others on the Nipomo Mesa will appeal the planners’ approval to the Board of Supervisors and, if necessary, to the California Coastal Commission.

The Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club also is protesting the towers.

Two of the five wind monitoring stations would be installed within the Dunes recreation area, two south of Oso Flaco Creek and one at the Cal Fire station at 2391 Willow Road in Nipomo.