A month after a plan to reduce air pollution from Oceano Dunes was rejected for not doing enough to protect public health, State Parks and the county Air Pollution Control District have reached a new proposed agreement to reduce dust emissions from the off-road vehicle park by 50 percent in the next five years.
That's up from the 30 percent reduction proposed in the initial plan in March.
The plan calls for closures and revegetation in the foredunes to return the area to conditions shown in a 1930s aerial photograph, and will guide State Parks' redesign of the park through its Public Works Plan, which could result in the camping area being moved and a new park entrance. It also calls for a scientific advisory group and for public workshops each year.
The county Air Pollution Control District Hearing Board, a quasi-judicial board, will hear details of the settlement and take public comment at a meeting on Monday, before deciding whether to accept or reject it. The meeting is set for 9 a.m. at the county Board of Supervisors Chambers at 1055 Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo.
Friends of Oceano Dunes, an off-road vehicle group, and other off-road groups are distrustful of APCD leadership and question whether the dunes are to blame for high measurements of particulate matter measured by air quality monitors. They don't want to see areas of the park closed and point to a recently released study that blames offshore phytoplankton blooms and related bacteria for the airborne particulate matter.
"While no scientifically based management or benefit has been established from these 'mitigation' activities, the mission of the (State Vehicle Recreation Area) — mainly providing a high-quality recreational experience to users of these areas — would be immediately impaired," Fred Wiley, president of of off-road vehicle group One Voice, said in a letter to the hearing board.
Meanwhile, downwind residents have expressed frustration that their health is at risk and change is slow to come.
"I'm incredibly disappointed by the bureaucratic process that simply does not react to critical timelines," said Nipomo Mesa resident Stanley Fisher, who suffers from a lung disease.
"The good news is the hearing board is asking for 50 percent, and it appears State Parks took that seriously. The bad news is, think of the disease and suffering that will occur in the next five years," said Fisher, who would rather see a plan that would call for immediate closure of 200 acres of riding area.
Members of the hearing board last month criticized an earlier proposed settlement agreement for lacking details, accountability, and strong enough goals to protect downwind communities from high concentrations of small particles of sand small enough to cause severe health effects, including in residents' lungs.
Park users and downwind residents both vocally rejected the last plan at a packed hearing in March, and the board ordered the agencies to work together and come back with a plan to meet a 50 percent reduction.
The new proposed settlement released Tuesday is more than twice as long and includes additional goals and oversight.
"I don't think there could be a better plan given the time available and the dynamic situation we have," said APCD Officer Gary Willey.
Implementation of the first year of the plan would result in areas closed to riding and an expected 12 percent reduction in dust emissions based off of 2013 modeling.
The APCD filed a nuisance complaint against State Parks in September, alleging the agency was responsible for negligent dust emissions that contributed to air quality in South County violating state standards 363 days in a five-year period.
Reducing dust emissions from the Oceano Dunes by 50 percent would reduce air pollution to a level that would exist if off-road vehicles did not ride in the area, according to APCD officials.
"You'd still see standard violations if there weren't off-road vehicles out there, because there are natural sources, such as blowing dust. (There's also) smoke from fires and roadway emissions," Willey said.
Under the settlement, State Parks would not accept responsibility or admit to causing nuisance dust pollution.
If the plan is approved, it will be brought to the Coastal Commission for its consideration.