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Oceano Dunes workshop canceled after issues with State Parks' dust reduction plan

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The San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) recently canceled a public workshop on dust mitigation at the Oceano Dunes, citing California State Parks' failure to complete an adequate work plan for mitigation efforts in the park.

DUNES DRAMA Hundreds of people from across the state attended a California Coastal Commission meeting in San Luis Obispo on July 11, where commissioners considered a recommendation to limit off-highway vehicle riding in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • DUNES DRAMA Hundreds of people from across the state attended a California Coastal Commission meeting in San Luis Obispo on July 11, where commissioners considered a recommendation to limit off-highway vehicle riding in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

The workshop, which was planned for Oct. 1, was initially scheduled so community members would have an opportunity to look over and discuss State Parks' plan for reducing dust emissions in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. State Parks is required to submit such a report to the APCD and its Science Advisory Group annually as part of a legal order the agencies agreed to several months ago requiring State Parks to cut dust emissions in Oceano by 50 percent by 2023.

While State Parks did submit two drafts of an annual work plan for 2019—the first on the Aug. 1 deadline, and a revised version was completed by Sept. 13—both were rejected by the APCD and its Science Advisory Group.

Jimmy Paulding, an Arroyo Grande City Council member and APCD board member, said both rejected reports outlined dust reduction strategies that were "woefully inadequate" and fell way short of what needs to be done to improve air quality near the park.

"From plan to plan, we see this lack of willingness to work in good faith," Paulding said of State Parks, "to get the job done."

Instead of working to make Oceano a safe place for locals and wildlife, Paulding said State Parks has consistently obstructed and slowed the dust mitigation process at nearly every level, a complaint brought up by a number of Central Coast residents and commissioners at a California Coastal Commission meeting in July.

There, the Coastal Commission considered imposing regulations that would have limited off-highway vehicle riding in some portions of the Oceano Dunes, activities that are thought to increase potentially dangerous dust particles emitted by the park that travel to neighboring communities. The proposed conditions were reluctantly voted down by the Coastal Commission after hours of impassioned public comment and State Parks Director Lisa Mangat's repeated promises to work in good faith to reduce dust emissions.

After that meeting, Paulding said he had some restored hope that State Parks would do its part to improve the situation in Oceano, hope that he said is now lost.

With no approved plan to discuss, APCD Officer Gary Willey said he was forced to cancel the public workshop. Willey's next objective is to schedule an APCD hearing on where to go next. The district could either have an informational hearing on a State Parks work plan, if one is submitted and approved, "or we'll have a hearing that considers taking other action."

APCD's hearing board could decide to change the legal order under which the dust mitigation process is currently operating. The board, Willey said, could choose to make the process much more stringent and difficult for State Parks to adhere to.

In a statement emailed to New Times, State Parks officials said that despite the Oct. 1 workshop cancellation, the agency remains committed to developing a "mutually acceptable" draft work plan and working with the APCD. State Parks outlined a number of ongoing dust reduction strategies at Oceano, including more than 100 acres of land that have been fenced off to riding, increased wind fencing, and plant installations. Officials said additional dust treatments are being analyzed.

"We look forward to our continued discussions with the Air Pollution Control District," the statement reads, "and to new dust mitigation efforts." Δ

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