H-OCEANO DUNES

Sep 29, 2011 6:01 PM by Nancy Chen

State Parks one step closer to being fined for Oceano Dunes dust violations

San Luis Obispo County air regulators made the first move Wednesday night to force the State Parks Department to reduce dust emissions at the Oceano Dunes.

The San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District voted 9 to 3 to move ahead with regulations that could mean harsh fines; the district says it has been working on a plan for years.

It says the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area violates air quality standards fifty to seventy times a year, blowing sand and dust onto the Nipomo Mesa.

Some blame ATV's and other activities at the Dunes for the dust problems, while others say it's entirely a natural part of the Dunes.

There's no question dust comes off the Oceano Dunes, creating health concerns for those on Nipomo Mesa. What is at question though--who or what is responsible and just how responsible.

Under the proposed plan, the State Parks Department could be fined up to a thousand dollars each day for each violation.

"It looks at making sure that they're only responsible for trying to control emissions that are created by the riding," said Larry Allen, the district's executive director. "And so we intend to work very closely with State Parks."

Allen says it's a fair plan and that they will be flexible, giving State Parks 18 months to develop and implement a plan and then another two years after that before possibly imposing fines.

"We know that they're not going to be able to come into compliance right away," Allen said. "It's going to take time, which is why we've given them two years after they implement the plan."

Board member Roberta Fonzi was one of three who voted no Wednesday, instead calling for incremental steps before imposing what she says are strict regulations.

"It may be setting up the Parks for failure because it will not be able to be met immediately," she said. "And I object to taxing or fining one agency and giving it to another agency."

The board will make a final vote on the proposed rule November 16th; the district says it will measure violations by placing one monitoring system downwind from riding areas at the Dunes and another from a comparable area closed to riding. It will then subtract the difference.

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