Officials proceed with Oceano Dunes dust rule work

Despite two legal challenges, local agencies are moving full speed ahead to implement a new requirement to reduce dust blowing off Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

State Parks is working to set up some mobile monitoring stations in the Dunes that will measure dust levels during the windy springtime when dust emissions are highest, said Dunes Superintendent Andy Zilke.

Meanwhile, the county Air Pollution Control District is beginning a separate project to establish a series of temporary monitoring stations on the Nipomo Mesa that will allow the district to map the dust plume coming off the park, said Larry Allen, air pollution control officer.

As many as 20 stations will be deployed on the Mesa as well as two in Oceano.

“We are pretty much saturating the Mesa with monitors,” Allen said.

The controversial dust rule was adopted by the air board in November. Once fully implemented, it will subject State Parks to possible fines if unhealthy dust levels blowing off riding areas of the park exceed levels coming off nonriding areas.

At the beginning of the year, two lawsuits were filed challenging the rule, based mostly on the assertion that a study linking off-highway vehicle riding to high dust levels on the Mesa is flawed.

One was filed by the pro-riding group Friends of Oceano Dunes, and the second was filed by San Luis Obispo resident Kevin P. Rice.

State Parks is on track to meet the first deadline set in the new dust rule, Zilke said. By Feb. 28, the agency must submit a plan for selecting where permanent dust monitoring stations will be.

These stations will compare the amount of dust coming off the riding area with the amount from a nonriding area.

By May 31, the park must submit a draft plan to reduce the amount of dust coming off the riding area. Options include planting trees to screen areas downwind of the park and replanting some areas of open dunes with native vegetation.

State Parks must begin implementing the dust-control program by June of next year.