Grand jury says Oceano Dunes dust is a risk to 'thousands'



The SLO County grand jury weighed in on one of the most controversial issues in South SLO County with a new report stating that dust kicked up from off-highway vehicles at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (ODSVRA) was a health risk to "thousands of residents" living on the Nipomo Mesa and in surrounding areas.

According to the report, released June 12, the grand jury found that airborne dust ranging from moderate to hazardous levels and exceeding state and federal air quality standards was often recorded at air monitoring stations on and near the Nipomo Mesa. The report stated that the particulate air pollution originates from vehicular riding activity on a system of sand dunes located in the recreation area's Le Grande Tract.

"The purpose of this report is to illuminate the history of the health risk to the public on the Nipomo Mesa and nearby communities and identify the most effective mitigation plan to reduce or eliminate it within the shortest possible time frame," the report stated.

The grand jury's report comes after the SLO County Air Pollution Control District and California State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle Division reached an agreement on a proposed plan to mitigate the dunes dust issue. The agreement, approved by the APCD's hearing board in April, set a goal for reducing particulate emissions by 50 percent and attaining state and federal air quality standards within four years of the plan's approval. The agreement was reached after a contentious back-and-fourth between the APCD and State Parks in 2017, when the former agency began a formal process to cite the latter for violations of dust mitigation regulations.

The APCD and State Parks spent much of the last 10 years in an "adversarial" relationship over the dunes dust issue, the grand jury's report noted, saying that the recent agreement was a sign that the relationship may have changed for the better. If the new plan fails, the grand jury called on the SLO County Board of Supervisors to step in and "act decisively" on the issue by "drastically restricting" riding on the Le Grande tract and facilitating the relocation of camping and riding areas to the southern end of the ODSVRA.

"The Board of Supervisors has a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the health of the residents of San Luis Obispo County," the report stated.

The report made a total of nine findings and four recommendations related to the dunes dust issue. The Board of Supervisors, APCD and its hearing board, and the Lucia Mar Unified School District are required to respond to some of the report's findings by Aug. 13. Δ

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