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State dunes study held up by appeal

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The long, multi-party process for developing a dust control strategy for the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area has hit another snag.

On Dec. 3, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Department approved a minor-use permit for State Parks’ two-year plan to install five 30-foot air monitoring towers, which would be used to measure wind patterns around Oceano and Nipomo.

But a number of Nipomo Mesa residents, after urging the county Air Pollution Control District board of directors to make their health concerns the highest priority, appealed the decision to let the state conduct the additional study.

The project is now on hold until the appeal goes to the Board of Supervisors for further review, said county planner Paul Sittig. The appeal could be heard as late as March. Sittig said there’s also a possibility the county decision could be appealed to the California Coastal Commission.

Nipomo Mesa residents complain that particulate matter—fine dust—kicked up by off-road vehicles at the dunes causes health problems such as chronic sinus and bronchial infections and asthma.

A February air district study named off-highway vehicles on the dunes as the primary culprit behind poor air quality downwind at the Nipomo Mesa. During high winds, air quality exceeds state standards for particulates.

Appellants allege the state’s project is an attempt to undermine the existing study. They also claim that taxpayer costs are unclear, wind-monitoring stations are visually intrusive, the project’s goals aren’t specific, and the wording of the project is vague.

Phil Jenkins, chief of State Parks’ Off-Highway Recreation Division, said he was surprised there was so much fuss over the wind towers, and added that wind patterns represented one area State Parks found lacking in the county study.

“We’re looking for solutions,” Jenkins said. “It’s certainly not our intent to affect the original study any way. If the [county] study is sound, more data is just going to round that picture.”

The project would erect two wind-monitoring stations within the dunes recreation area, two south of Oso Flaco Creek, and one at the Cal Fire station next to the ConocoPhillips refinery.

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