State Parks, don't blow this chance to fix air-quality violations at the Oceano Dunes

Nipomo Mesa residents leading a fight for clean air aren’t exactly cheering a new plan to limit dust drifting from the state-owned Oceano Dunes off-road vehicle park.

We don’t blame them. They’ve been burned before, and they’re skeptical.

Time and again, Mesa residents have been assured something would be done to reduce dangerously high levels of airborne dust. Yet for at least the past decade, county and state agencies have clashed more than they’ve cooperated.

If they want to regain their credibility, all public officials need to actually put public health first this time, rather than just paying lip service to residents’ concerns and, in the next breath, pointing to how much the state off-highway vehicle park benefits the local economy.

No one denies that the Oceano Dunes is important to local tourism. Also, no one is seriously proposing to completely close the park to recreational vehicles. Rather, the goal all along has been to find a compromise that would allow OHV activities, without endangering the health of neighboring residents.

For as much as off-roaders make light of health concerns — for example, their tasteless jokes about “secondhand sand” — several Mesa residents do suffer from serious respiratory diseases, such as asthma and emphysema. One man, Stanley Fisher, has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an end-stage lung disease.

While there’s no proof that dust exposure has caused Mesa residents to become ill, there’s no question that exposure to dust exacerbates health problems, to the extend that some residents don’t even venture outside when the wind kicks up.

The dust control plan adopted this week aims to give Nipomo Mesa residents relief — its goal is to reduce particulate pollution in the air by 50 percent over the next five years. There still could be occasional violations of state standards for particulate matter, but officials expects that air quality would be greatly improved.

To achieve that, State Parks has agreed to install sand fencing and replant some of the areas that have been stripped of vegetation. It also has agreed to increase air monitoring, consult with a scientific advisory council and hold regular public hearings.

The plan, which is the result of negotiations between State Parks and the county Air Pollution Control District, offers the state yet another opportunity to make things right; the county APCD hearing board could have found the park in violation of state law and ordered even tougher measures.

However, members of the hearing board believed State Parks deserved another chance, and they were impressed by what they saw as a new spirit of cooperation between the county and the state.

But some Mesa residents pointed out that the state hasn't always lived up to its commitments.

They're right, and that's why the county must be vigilant. The county Air Pollution Control District staff and its board of directors – which includes the five county supervisors and a representative of each of the seven cities – must hold the state’s feet to the fire this time, even if that means imposing stiff fines.

As we've been saying for years, this has gone on far too long. This should be State Parks' last chance.

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