SLO air board members to ask governor for help with Dunes dust

An ATV rider at the Oceano Dunes.
An ATV rider at the Oceano Dunes. The Tribune

Fed up with what they consider foot-dragging from State Parks over efforts to lessen pollution from the Oceano Dunes, the San Luis Obispo County air board on Wednesday agreed to go over the heads of bureaucrats theyhave been dealing with and instead ask the governor and higher authorities for help.

The county air board will let the new State Parks director, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson — appointed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown — know about his department’s intransigence, the board said, and will also alert Brown’s Resources Secretary John Laird.

The California State Parks Department has taken a “a scofflaw attitude” toward the county and residents of the Nipomo Mesa who suffer health problems from dunes particulates, said San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, who also is a member of the Air Pollution Control District board of directors.

For more than a year, the county and the state have ostensibly been working together to find a way to reduce levels of particulates that blow off the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area and up to the mesa.

But in a strongly worded, detailed, four-page letter last month, APCD director Larry Allen said the state’s supposed cooperation is a sham.

After a year of trying to negotiate, he decried an “an utter lack of commitment,” and elaborated on that Wednesday.

Merely trying to get through a conference call with State Parks representatives is grueling, Allen said. He said there is “contention over technical issues that just drive you crazy. We’ll spend an hour on page 12.”

Nobody from State Parks was present, which some board members found telling, given that they knew Allen’s critical letter would be discussed.

There was a letter from Janelle Beland, acting director of the state Department of Parks and Recreation, saying her department “is working cooperatively with the district.”

Allen found some support from board members.

”State Parks isn’t really interested in mitigating the problem,” said Air Pollution Control District board member and county Supervisor Jim Patterson. “They have not kept their side of the bargain,”

County Supervisor and APCD board member Adam Hill noted that State Parks has long questioned the county’s scientific basis for particulate studies. “They’ve denied the science from the beginning, the way the fossil fuel industry has denied climate change,” Hill said. Beland’s letter reiterated that stance.

Hill added that the board tries to balance recreation on the dunes, especially off-roading, with the health of its residents. But when it comes to choosing one over the other, he said, “protecting the health of our citizens” is paramount.

Lurking behind the discussion of controlling particulates on the dunes is money. The park is a multimillion dollar cash cow for the state, as well as local governments and businesses. Some who oppose particulate studies fear that they might lead to a full or partial closure of off-road activity, shutting that money spigot.

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