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Amid coronavirus restrictions on Dunes recreation, air quality managers monitoring changes to air quality

Posted at 8:49 AM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 12:04:14-04

Cities around the globe are reporting improvements in air quality as the coronavirus forces millions of people to quarantine and San Luis Obispo County air pollution managers are monitoring the Oceano Dunes to see if its air quality changes.

It may be too early to tell if the March closure of the Dunes is leading to an improvement in air quality but SLO County Air Pollution Control District Exec. Dir. Gary Willey is optimistic about this unique closure.

The Dunes are typically packed full of visitors riding off-highway vehicles but on Tuesday, the popular recreation site sat empty except for a few seagulls and a lone fisherman.

Many California state parks remain closed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Spring usually spells poor air quality for the community of Oceano due to sand thrown into the air by a combination of spring time winds and an increase in OHV riders zooming through the Dunes.

Now, with the parking lots empty and rental shops closed, SLO County air quality managers look forward to measuring the impacts of barren beaches.

"We're kind of fortunate that this closure came at this time that we had this mammoth monitoring network set up just for this fore-dune project," Willey said. "The closure, we got lucky on that, that it happened right before the spring wind season. So we'll be able to ascertain what difference it means in the short term basis to close the park down."

Willey said the air quality level is expected to improve if not simply for the lack of vehicles coming through the area.

"We don't expect it to self mitigate years of riding and grinding in certain areas," Willey said. "Mother Nature takes time to reform those Dunes into shapes it wants to go. We're excited to see what short term reductions are but we're still in this for the long haul."

May through October is what Willey calls the "ozone season," a time when traffic-related pollution is highest.

The Air Quality Pollution Control District is moving forward with its mitigation project to prevent sand at the dunes from impacting the mesa air quality.

On Tuesday, the air quality for the Dunes was rated good. At times, the air quality here can register as the worst in the country.

Willey expects the Dunes to remain closed to vehicles for a few months as a result of the coronavirus.