Team to monitor dust flow is all set

The county Air Pollution Control District hired a Westlake Village environmental consultant Wednesday to oversee efforts to reduce dust blowing off Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

The air district board unanimously authorized spending up to $50,000 to hire Richard Countess, an expert on windblown dust, to act as the district’s technical consultant. He will work about 20 hours a week at $200 an hour.

The hiring of Countess completes a team of experts that will try to find a way to reduce the amount of sand particles blowing from the park onto the Nipomo Mesa to something equivalent to natural levels.

A recent scientific study by the district showed that off-highway vehicle riding at Oceano Dunes exacerbates levels of windblown dust. For decades, the Nipomo Mesa has had chronic levels of particulate pollution that exceed state and federal health standards.

The district also recently hired two consultants from the Desert Research Institute of Reno to develop a pilot program to test the effectiveness of replanting and using hay bales as dust control measures. The pilot program is scheduled to be in place in March for the beginning of the spring windy season.

Air officials hope to have an official dust control program in place by the end of the year. Countess will be the air district’s representative on the pilot program’s technical advisory committee and will develop performance standards for the permanent rules on dust control.

Air Pollution Control Officer Larry Allen said he needed to hire Countess because the district lacks his level of expertise in fugitive dust. He will also free up air district staffers to do other kinds of monitoring work.

The Oceano Dunes dust control program is the first of its kind, Allen said. Other dust control efforts have targeted desert dune environments or manmade sources such as roads, not coastal dune ecosystems.

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who chairs the air district board, said the mechanics of windblown sand are the same from one setting to another, and the findings of the Oceano Dunes study will be scientifically valid.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.