Air board to consider dust rule

The county air pollution control board will consider a plan on Wednesday that would give the State Parks Department 3½ years to reduce unhealthy levels of dust blowing off the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

The contentious issue of high levels of particulate matter on the Nipomo Mesa on windy days will take up much of the air board’s Sept. 28 agenda. The central item is consideration of a proposed fugitive-dust rule for Oceano Dunes.

Under the rule, State Parks would be required to devise a plan that would reduce dust emissions from the riding area of the park. Monitoring stations would compare emissions from the riding area to those from nonriding areas.

“The goal is to bring emissions from the park down to natural, baseline levels or close to that,” said Aeron Arlin-Genet, spokeswoman for the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District.

The district board is expected to adopt the final rule in November. State Parks would then have until May 2015 to devise, get approval of and start a dust-control program.

The 3½-year timeframe is necessary to give State Parks enough time to obtain the necessary land-use permits and approval of the plan by Air Pollution Control Officer Larry Allen, Arlin-Genet said.

Once the rule is in place, State Parks could be subject to fines of up to $1,000 per day for violations. Andy Zilke, Oceano Dunes superintendent, said State Parks is reviewing the proposed rule to see if it is fair and workable.

“We have a number of people on our team that are taking a close look at the rule,” he said. “We realize we are going to have to work toward some plan to address these issues.”

State Parks has a number of techniques available to bring emissions under control. These include planting lupine and other native plants in the dunes, breaking up open-sand areas with straw bales, closures of riding areas and planting of eucalyptus or other trees in strategic areas to create windbreaks.

A study conducted in the spring by the Desert Research Institute showed that revegetation and straw bales were both more than 90 percent effective in reducing emissions. The case for closures of additional riding areas is less clear because of problems with the study’s instrument measurements.

“It was successful in showing that in the riding areas’ sand movement continued at twice the rate than in nonriding areas,” Arlin-Genet said.

On Wednesday, the air district will also consider approving a short-term monitoring project to better understand where and how much dust blows onto various parts of the Mesa. The study would be conducted during next year’s spring windy season from March through May.

The study will be funded by a grant of $62,382 from the Environmental Protection Agency.