Local air pollution officials, State Parks clash over rule on Dunes dust

A motorcycle kicks up sand at sunset at the Oceano Dunes.
A motorcycle kicks up sand at sunset at the Oceano Dunes. The Tribune

The San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District and the California State Parks Department are at an impasse over implementation of a new rule to curb excessive amounts of dust blowing off Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Larry Allen, county air pollution control officer, sent a strongly worded letter Oct. 23 to the Off-Highway Vehicle Division of State Parks decrying an “utter lack of commitment” on the part of the division to carry out the dust control rule that was adopted by the air board a year ago.

“After 11 months of conference calls, personal calls, emails and meetings, State Parks staff continue to dispute, defer or simply ignore significant comments by APCD staff and our consultant on needed revisions” to the State Parks draft dust control plan, Allen said in the letter.

In an Oct. 15 letter to Allen, State Parks Acting Director Janelle Beland said the department will continue to work with the air district but reiterated its opposition to the dust rule.

“As the department has previously indicated in correspondence, we have serious concerns about the rules, including adequacy of the science used to develop the rules and the serious practical challenges attendant in implementing the rules,” Beland said in the letter.

The air pollution control board will meet Wednesday in San Luis Obispo, and a discussion of Allen’s and Beland’s letters is on the agenda.

State Parks submitted a draft dust control plan to the air district on Sept. 7. The plan does not contain any clear steps for reducing wind-blown dust from the Oceano Dunes, Allen said.

Instead, it concentrates on additional monitoring. State Parks employees have told the air district that they hope that the additional monitoring will show that dust control measures are not needed.

“This attitude and approach is unacceptable and appears to be the fundamental cause behind the lack of progress,” Allen wrote in the letter.

The dust control regulation, called Rule 1001, requires that the state develop a plan to reduce the number of days air quality on the Nipomo Mesa exceeds state standards for particulates, which currently averages 60 days a year.

A controversial scientific study concluded that off-highway vehicle riding in the Dunes increases the amount of dust coming from the park. High levels of particulates cause a variety of respiratory problems, and Nipomo Mesa residents have complained of having to stay indoors on high wind days.

Techniques available to State Parks to reduce the blowing dust include planting trees and native vegetation and placing hay bales to reduce the speed of the wind blowing across the surface of the dunes.