5 things to know about the order to reduce dust at Oceano Dunes

California State Parks has been ordered to reduce dust emissions from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area by 50 percent over the next five years.

The abatement order adopted is a settlement between State Parks and the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District, which accused State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division of nuisance dust emissions from Oceano Dunes SVRA in violation of health and safety codes and local air pollution rules.

The 23-page proposed settlement was approved by the county APCD Hearing Board with few changes on Monday.

Here's what that means:

1. State Parks denies allegations that Oceano Dunes SVRA violates air-quality rules.

The order says that numerous scientific studies "have documented emissions from ODSVRA off-highway vehicle riding areas upwind of the Nipomo Mesa as the main source of particulate matter causing the dust and air pollution that is the subject of the complaints received, and the associated public health concerns." However, the Hearing Board did not make a finding that State Parks violated air quality rules, and State Parks denied the allegations.

Still, State Parks agreed to address and resolve the allegations.

2. State Parks agreed to fence off about 100 acres of the foredune area by Sept. 15.

State Parks will fence off and vegetate areas in the foredunes to replicate its historic structure as shown in a 1930s aerial photograph. That involves closing about 100 acres by September, and additional acreage moving westward in the following years. APCD Officer Gary Willey said the initial closures will result in a 10 to 12 percent reduction of emissions.

Officials said fencing an area from riding reduces dust emissions from that area by 75 percent, and adding vegetation reduces sand emissions from that area entirely.

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A map of potential 2018 closures in the Oceano Dunes SVRA for a proposed dust mitigation plan. California State Parks

3. State Parks agreed to create a particulate mitigation plan by Feb. 1, 2019.

With the assistance of a scientific advisory group, State Parks agreed to create and implement a plan that will inform the redesign of the park to reduce 24-hour baseline PM10 emissions by 50 percent (based on air-quality modeling done in 2013) within four years after the plan is approved by the APCD officer.

State Parks also agreed to:

Install a device that removes sand from vehicle wheels at Grand and Pier avenue park exits by June 30, 2019.

Work with dune user groups to enhance camping in front of the foredunes.

Conduct additional air-quality monitoring.

Conduct an air-quality education campaign.

Continue crystalline silica testing.

Consider spreading out the park's OHV users to reduce density-related emissions; this may include opening new areas to riding.

Consider a southern entrance and southern campground.

4. State Parks shall turn in annual work plans and progress reports that the public can review.

State Parks agreed to each year turn in reports of dust controls implemented over the previous year that show progress using metrics identified in the plan approved by the officer. Additional metrics can be added each year, and the reports will propose planned dust-control activities for the next year.

Each report will include a detailed implementation schedule with deadlines and estimate the benefits downwind of the Oceano Dunes SVRA and the expected PM10 reductions due east of the dunes on the Nipomo Mesa. Failure to meet increments of progress or deadlines shall constitute a violation of the order.

The APCD officer agreed to publish announcements of workshops after draft work plans are created each year so that the public can comment. The officer can approve the draft work plan or return it to the respondent after receiving public comments.

The Hearing Board can convene meetings to receive informational updates on the report each year from 2019 through 2022. The order recommends those meetings be convened in October.

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5. APCD's role is to enforce progress schedules and required actions.

The order does not articulate details about enforcement, but it does say that the APCD's role is to enforce schedules and actions. The APCD officer can request a hearing before the Hearing Board to resolve any disagreements, and the hearing board can overrule decisions made by the officer.

The order does say that nothing limits the authority of the APCD officer to issue notices of violation or to seek civil penalties against State Parks on the dust issue. Penalties for violations of air quality rules can be up to $25,000 a day, or more when proven health issues are involved.

Both State Parks and the APCD have the authority to terminate the order at any time. If that happens, the issue goes back to the hearing board and a hearing process for the nuisance complaint will continue.

What's next?

State Parks has launched a public-works plan to create an all-encompassing management plan for Oceano Dunes SVRA. This abatement order will help guide and shape that plan and will result in a redesign of the park. Meetings for the public-works plan are scheduled to take place in San Luis Obispo County on May 22 and Fresno on May 23.