State Parks needs to fall in line with air quality ruling

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 state of California is an acknowledged leader when it comes to clean air standards. Why, then, is one of its agencies all but ignoring a local rule to reduce air pollution drifting from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area?

We aren’t talking rocket science here. Simple and relatively inexpensive measures, such as planting vegetation to anchor the sand and installing fences or berms to serve as wind breaks, were shown to be highly effective during recent pilot studies. State Parks is already using such measures to protect sensitive habitat areas in nonriding areas of the Oceano Dunes.

Yet the head of the county Air Pollution Control District says State Parks has failed to develop a similar plan to limit the amount of sand that drifts from the recreation area and pollutes the air on the Nipomo Mesa.

Instead, State Parks is proposing an expensive and sophisticated air monitoring system — presumably in an effort to undermine APCD studies that show off-roading is a big contributor to the high particulate pollution on the Mesa.

State Parks should stop fighting the APCD at every opportunity — including civil court — and at least try some of the measures that could help protect the health of residents living downwind of the riding area.

We wouldn’t be calling for corrective actions if there weren’t aproblem. But there is. Consider: At one monitoring station on the Mesa, particulate pollution violates state standards an average of 60 days per year. No other area of the county comes even close to such a poor record, according to the APCD.

State Parks, in head-in-thesand-fashion, disputes the validity of the APCD studies that link the pollution to off-roading.

While it hasn’t filed a lawsuit against the APCD, it did submit a court brief in support of legal action by Friends of the Oceano Dunes, an advocacy group for off-roaders. The lawsuit asks the court to set aside the APCD rule that puts limits on particulate emissions at the recreation area. That case is scheduled for trial in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Jan. 24.

Meanwhile, the state faces a Nov. 30 APCD deadline to apply for permits for any projects that require approval from regulatory agencies. It’s supposed to start implementing the pollution reduction program by June.

APCD officials say there’s no way it will make those deadlines unless it steps up progress on a dust-control plan. So what’s the problem?

Private citizens are not allowed to ignore state orders because they disagree with the science behind the rulings. Yet that’s what State Parks has been doing.

As we’ve said many times, we don’t want to see the Dunes closed to off-roading. But we do want to see public agencies step up and focus on what’s most important, which is protecting public health.

It’s time for State Parks to stop throwing up roadblocks every time someone tries to get to the bottom of this continuing air quality problem. Instead, it should start demonstrating a modicum of concern for Mesa residents by cooperating with the county Air Pollution Control District.