Editorial: Why does State Parks need more dunes data?

State Parks may be completely justified in proposing to install towers to gather more data about wind patterns at the Oceano Dunes. But absent a clear explanation of why the additional data is needed and how it might be used to improve air quality on the Nipomo Mesa, it’s hard not to question the motivation of state officials.

After all, the agency is hardly an objective party; it’s operated a popular off-road vehicle park in Oceano for decades, and would face enormous pressure from OHV enthusiasts from throughout the state if it tried to shut it down.

Also, the agency has never fully endorsed the findings of the county air quality study, which identified off-road recreation as a contributor to air quality violations on the Mesa.

No wonder, then, that some Mesa residents believe the state is trying to generate new information to cast doubt on the validity of the county study.

It doesn’t help that county and Air Pollution Control District officials who have been working on the issue also are questioning why the additional data is necessary.

“We haven’t received a satisfactory response as to why it’s needed,” said Aeron Arlin-Genet, Air Pollution Control District outreach supervisor.

A State Parks official said the agency has been upfront in discussing the towers, but it’s clear to us that it needs to do a better job of outlining the benefits of more data collection.

It’s not that we oppose more research; we just don’t know enough at this point to weigh in one way or the other.

We also question the timing.

State, county and air pollution control officials are gearing up to get a pilot remediation project in place by March 1. As part of that process, the agencies are close to hiring a consulting firm of independent scientists.

We wonder, why not wait until the consultant is on board before deciding what additional data is needed? And why not hold a community workshop to fully explain the need for the towers and the additional data collection?

It’s true that many minds already are made up on this issue, but that’s no reason for a public agency not to clearly state its intent when it proposes a two-year project of this scope — especially given the controversial history of the dunes.

We strongly urge State Parks to do so.