An agreement that was billed as a great compromise between California state parks and the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) did not satisfy the APCD’s hearing board, which rejected the deal on Wednesday and demanded that more be done to reduce dust flows coming from the Oceano Dunes.
The APCD and Nipomo Mesa residents, on one side, have long clashed with state parks and off-road vehicle riders over Oceano Dunes dust flows. In 2011, the air district adopted the Oceano Dunes dust rule, which required state parks to reduce the amount of particulate matter blowing from the Oceano Dunes off-roading area or face fines of $1,000 per day.
In adopting the regulation, the APCD relied on contested studies concluding off-roading on the dunes is causing pollution on the Nipomo Mesa.
After adoption of the dust rule, the regulation became the subject of a multi-year court battle, during which the APCD was barred from requiring state parks to obtain a permit to operate the riding area. The air district and state parks have since been involved in talks on reaching a settlement.
Recently, the APCD and state parks agreed to a pollution abatement order that would require state parks to fence off about 100 acres in order to create islands of vegetation within the Oceano Dunes riding area. While state parks still denies that off-roading is causing the pollution on the Nipomo Mesa, the agency did agree to a host of conditions outlined in the abatement order, including the dunes fencing and drawing up annual plans to achieve yearly 5 percent reductions in particulate matter emissions through 2024.
However, on Wednesday, the APCD hearing board shot down the agreement during a meeting held at the San Luis Obispo City Council Chambers. The APCD hearing board is a five-member body that is separate from the agency’s board of directors.
Wednesday’s meeting drew a packed house, mostly of members of the public opposing the compromise between the APCD and state parks. Nipomo Mesa residents voiced opposition to the agreement because it did not do enough to reduce emissions.
Meanwhile, supporters of off-road activity on the dunes voiced opposition to the deal on the grounds that they oppose more closures of riding area. Presently, there are already 186 acres of fenced vegetation islands on the dunes, according to a map circulated by the APCD.
Critics of the APCD have also alleged the district is manipulating state parks into making more concessions by promoting faulty studies and by withholding information showing levels of crystalline silica, or quartz, on the Nipomo Mesa are not as high as alleged.
For 10 years, the APCD has claimed that the health of residents on the Mesa is threatened because of crystalline silica (sand) caused by vehicles in the dunes.
On March 8, 2017, state parks completed the third of three tests of the crystalline silica (sand) content of the particulate blowing onto the Mesa and all three show “non detect.”
In addition, the Scripps Institute has analyzed the particulate mater blowing on the Mesa and concluded that vehicles riding on the dunes are not the cause. Instead, the particulate is made up primarily of salt and biological material blowing off the ocean, according to reports.
Supporters of the off-road park also noted the economic impact of the Oceano Dunes, which was found to generate about $200 million a year for the SLO County economy, according to a recent study.
In rejecting the proposed agreement between the APCD and state parks, the air district hearing board demanded that the two agencies come to terms on a plan that would reduce particulate matter emissions from the Oceano Dunes riding area by 50 percent, rather than approximately 30 percent, as was proposed in the initial compromise.
The APCD and state parks now must reach a new agreement or else the hearing board could find state parks guilty of creating a nuisance and could impose an abatement order upon the agency. The air district and state parks are now expected to return to the hearing board with a new agreement by the end of April.