Members of the state’s off-road recreation panel Friday expressed skepticism about a study that attributes high dust levels on the Nipomo Mesa to dune buggy riding in the Oceano Dunes.
They also asked for more data to be collected to further define where high levels of dust are coming from and what can be done to reduce the problem.
A discussion of a controversial scientific study conducted by the county Air Pollution Control District on unhealthy levels of dust blowing off the Dunes capped two days of meetings in the South County by the state Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission.
Six of the eight members of the board attended the meeting, which included a tour Thursday of Oceano Dunes.Several of the commission members questioned the conclusion of the air study that farmland, Highway 101 and a nearby oil refinery are not the source of the pollution. They asked the State Parks Department to do additional monitoring on emissions from land that State Parks leases to farmers near Oceano Dunes.
“It seems like ag is a potential major source and I’d like to know more about it,” said Breene Kerr, a commissioner from Los Altos Hills.
Phil Jenkins, chief of the state’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Division, said his department is working on a proposal to take to the air district to deploy some mobile air sampling stations to gather more information in the area. Inconsistencies in the study call into question the conclusion that there is a “noticeable correlation” between OHV riding and higher dust levels, Jenkins said.
“There were a number of things that gave us pause,” he said.
No one from the county air district was at the meeting to defend the dust study. But the air district board has voted by large margins in recent meetings in support of the study and to proceed with a new rule to hold State Parks responsible for the problem.
Commissioner Stan Van Velsor of San Francisco tried to pin Jenkins down about what kinds of tools are available to reduce dust blowing from the park. No one has a good answer to that question, Jenkins said.
One possibility suggested by additional studies conducted this spring would be to plant more vegetation or install hay bales in a buffer zone immediately inland of the park.
“You could do that without impacting the OHV riding area,” Jenkins said.
State Parks has pledged to work cooperatively with county air officials to deal with the problem of dust blowing off the riding area. But the department objects to a rule being drafted by the air board that would subject the Oceano Dunes park to fines of $1,000 a day if dust emissions from the riding area exceed emissions from nonriding areas.
Friday’s hearing drew both supporters and critics of OHV riding in the Dunes. They expressed many familiar themes on the subject.
Supporters said OHV riding is a wholesome family activity that provides a substantial stimulant to the county’s economy. A State Parks economic impact study due to be released soon concludes that the park injects $171 million annually into the economy.
Critics of OHV riding in the park countered that economic impact reports don’t take into consideration the cost of the park in terms of increased illness from dust pollution as well as injuries from riding accidents and more demands on public services infrastructure.