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Settlement shrinks Oceano Dunes off-highway playground to reduce dust emissions

Sandra Foyt/Flickr
Off-road vehicles at Oceano Dunes State Park.

San Luis Obispo County’s Oceano Dunes is a complex of coastal sand dunes with a 5.5-mile stretch of drivable beach, the only place in California where it’s legal to drive off-highway vehicles along the water's edge. In an effort to control air pollution in the area, there will soon be about 100 fewer acres on which to go four-wheeling at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

A hearing board voted Monday in favor of an agreement that calls for lowering dust emissions by 50 percent over the next five years. By mid-September, off-roaders will see fencing up, then plants will go in within the fenced-off areas to revegetate and stabilize the dunes.

Last September, the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District - or APCD - filed a petition to force State Parks to do something to cut the amount of dust blowing downwind from the dunes. From May 2012 to October 2017, the APCD received 133 complaints from downwind residents.

Gary Willey, the county’s air pollution control officer, said Monday’s settlement includes the creation of a scientific advisory committee and increased public monitoring. But not everybody’s happy with the settlement.

“It’s not perfect. And I don’t think we could have ever arrived at a perfect agreement, there’s always better ways to do things,” Willey told KCBX News on Tuesday. “I know some of the public are frustrated on both sides - it’s too much, it’s not enough - but I do feel it’s going to get the necessary emissions reductions and still allow the park to function at a high level.”

Kevin Pearce is a State Parks superintendent at Oceano Dunes. He says separately from yesterday’s settlement, there’s currently an effort underway to potentially redesign the state park. Last November, state parks officials started a public works plan process. And they want feedback.

“If you were to design this park now, knowing what we known now, what would you like to see in the park? What kind of uses would you like to see, what kind of activities or recreation opportunities?” Pearce said. “It’s not specifically related to air quality, but it’s another engagement where some of our air quality issues would be incorporated into a larger park management plan.”

Public meetings are planned for May 22 in Arroyo Grande and May 23 in Fresno to get input on what Oceano Dunes may look like in the future.

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