Pismo Preserve gets $350,000 from Central Coast water board

Oak trees on the proposed 900-acre Pismo Preserve.
Oak trees on the proposed 900-acre Pismo Preserve. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Against its staff recommendation, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has allocated $350,000 to the Pismo Preserve project.

The decision was made at a hearing of the water board Thursday in Santa Barbara that was attended by about 35 backers of the Pismo Preserve, all wearing bright green T-shirts, said county Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Pismo Beach.

The preserve is a 900-acre parcel northeast of Pismo Beach that the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County is purchasing for an overall price of $12 million.

If the deal is complete, the preserve will open to the public next summer. The group has until the end of the month to finalize the deal. With Thursday’s contribution, the amount the group needs to still raise is about $600,000, Hill said.

The water board’s contribution for the preserve came from the agency’s settlement fund from Guadalupe oil field contamination. In 1998, the agency received a $15.6 million settlement from Unocal Oil Company, which spilled about 12 million gallons of oil products at the field in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in the county’s southwest corner.

The water board’s staff had recommended that all of the remaining settlement funds — about $1 million — be allocated to the agency’s groundwater assessment and protection program.

However, board Chairman Jean-Pierre Wolff of San Luis Obispo, along with the many locals in attendance, convinced the board to spend $350,000 on the preserve.

“Jean-Pierre Wolff really fought for us,” Hill said. “It’s been great to see how much momentum there’s been for this.”

Wolff said he was motivated to allocate the money due to the overwhelming support for the Pismo Preserve that was shown at the meeting.

“The project fit the overall mission of the Regional Water Quality Control Board in terms of natural habitat preservation and groundwater quality enhancement,” he said. “I felt that the fund had enough flexibility for a win-win situation.”