Hay bales are high on Dunes dust test

Starting in March, a combination of hay bales and revegetation will be tested to measure how best to reduce dust blowing off Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

An interagency oversight committee Wednesday approved a series of pilot programs that it hopes will lead to a long-term strategy to reduce particulate pollution from the off-highway vehicle park that is causing unhealthy air conditions on the Nipomo Mesa.

The pilot program will measure the amount of sand displaced by strong spring winds in four areas of the park, said Gary Willey, an engineer with the county Air Pollution Control District. The four areas are open sand patches inside and outside the riding area, revegetated areas and an area with 1,600 hay bales.

Once it’s been determined whether vegetation or hay bales are more effective at reducing sand movement, a permanent dust emission control program can be devised and implemented later this year. The goal is to reduce the amount of sand blowing off the park to natural levels.

“I suspect it will be a series of vegetated areas, but that remains to be seen,” Willey said.

The pilot programs are expected to last three to six weeks, depending on weather conditions. Sand dune and wind experts with the Desert Research Institute have been hired as consultants for the pilot program.

The pilot program has a budget of $100,000. The long-term dust control program is estimated to cost from $200,000 to $400,000, said Larry Allen, county air pollution control officer.

The county and State Parks Department are also implementing a street-sweeping program to reduce the amount of sand tracked onto Pier Avenue by vehicles leaving the off-highway vehicle park, said Andy Zilke, park superintendent. Pier Avenue is the main entrance to the park and is frequently blanketed by sand.

Public comment at Wednesday’s meeting was generally complementary of the dust control efforts. However, some want a more aggressive approach.

Longtime off-highway vehicle critic Nell Langford said the pilot program is a waste of money because it tests already well-established dust control techniques. “Why not stop OHV activity as your pilot study?” she asked.

A recent study by the air district determined that riding in the off-highway vehicle park significantly increases the amount of dust blowing downwind to the Nipomo Mesa.

The county, State Parks and the air district have signed a memorandum of agreement to deal with the problem.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.