California Coastal Commission unfazed by air district’s changing dust excuses

July 9, 2020

By KAREN VELIE

The California Coastal Commission is moving ahead with plans to reduce sand blowing on the Nipomo Mesa, even though there appears to be almost no chance the mitigation efforts will be effective.

In 2018, State Parks entered into a stipulated order of abatement with San Luis Obispo County’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD). The order mandates that the state reduce wind-blown dust, specifically dust particles that are 10 microns or less in diameter, on the Nipomo Mesa by 50 percent. However, APCD Administrator Gary Willey admitted last month that the abatement goal could not be achieved.

As part of the abatement agreement, state parks covered about 200 acres of dune sand with ground cover and orange plastic fencing, which required a permit approved by the Coastal Commission. Additional acres of the dunes are expected to be covered in the coming years if APCD and Coastal Commission staff have their way.

Some coastal commissioners, spurred by false reports about the cause of the dust and its chemical composition, began debating whether the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Area should be partially or completely shuttered.

A decade ago, the APCD first claimed it had tied high off-road vehicle traffic at the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Area to higher levels of dust on the Nipomo Mesa.

In March 2010, the APCD released a 12-month study of recreational vehicles on the Oceano Dunes. In its summary, the APCD said data showed that on weekends and holidays with more off-road vehicle activity, more dust blew onto the Nipomo Mesa, according to the South County Phase 2 Particulate Study.

“A comprehensive study to determine the source of particulates impacting the mesa was conducted in two phases, beginning in 2004,” according to the study. “Extensive analysis of the study data resulted in a conclusive finding that off-road vehicle activity at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area is a major contributing factor to the high PM concentrations observed on the mesa.”

However, a later review of the data showed a 13-month study, with the windy month of March listed twice, and no correlation between off-road vehicle activity on the dunes and higher levels of dust on the mesa.

Following the rebuke, the APCD claimed that the dunes emit dust from strong, easterly winds blowing the sand, and that more dust is created by driving off-road vehicles on the dunes.

In its Phase 2 study, the APCD also compared the Oceano Dunes with a dry lake bed. The APCD alleged that without traffic on the dunes, the sand would develop a crust similar to the salt flats of Owens Lake in the high desert of Eastern California.

The closure of the Oceano Dunes to all off-road and recreational vehicles in March also provided evidence that rebuked both the APCD’s dust emission and geographically misplaced crust theories.

Since RVs and off-road vehicles were barred from the Oceano Dunes because of the coronavirus, violations for excessive dust have more than doubled, data from two Nipomo Mesa air quality monitoring sites show. In addition, the dunes have not formed a crust similar to the salt flats of Owens Lake.

In 2018, the APCD formed a panel of scientific advisors, known as the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), to assist in the design and implementation of the various dune-covering projects.

In apparent anticipation that continued high-dust days with no vehicle recreation in the dunes would lead the public to question the APCD’s conclusions, the SAG reported that a lack of off-road vehicle activity on the dunes may not effect dust levels on the mesa, in an April 6 memorandum.

The APCD and SAG’s current theory is that off-road vehicles have damaged the dunes, which could take decades to heal. Neither entity detailed what “damage” meant, nor did they explain how the damage correlates to higher dust levels on the mesa.

“The SAG acknowledges that the Oceano Dunes are a naturally dusty surface that would experience PM emissions even in the absence of human activity, especially during this spring windy season,” according to the memorandum. “But the SAG is also clearly aware that decades of OHV activity have fundamentally altered the natural beach-dune landscape, making the dunes significantly more susceptible to PM emissions than they would be in a natural state.”

Even so, California Coastal Commission staff is recommending the board approve a five-year mitigation plan to reduce sand blowing from the Oceano Dunes. The board meets virtually on Thursday at 9 a.m. to discuss the Oceano Dunes.

The meeting is expected to be contentious, with a group of South County residents, who are passionate about keeping vehicles off the dunes, and others who do not like the off-road vehicle enthusiasts who come from the Central Valley, asking the commission to close the Oceano Dunes to off-road vehicles.

On the other side, campers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts argue that the California Coastal Commission is not following its mission of providing coastal access to all, and instead, only to those they identify with politically, according to Michael McGarity, a dunes rider from the valley.

“We are all told to stay in our valley,” McGarity said. “We must fight now to protect our access against disproportionately unreasonable forces. To make matters worse, we are, as a group, targeted, hated, insulted and called names.”

 

Limits of Coastal Commission’s authority over Oceano Dunes explained

The primary author of the Coastal Act and the California Coastal Commission’s first executive director, Peter Douglas, explains the limits of the Coastal Commission’s authority over the Oceano Dunes on Feb. 8, 2008.

 

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IDBOUND

Like I have been thinking and stating since late 70s .Here comes North Malibu someday dunes will be covered in mega million dollar homes and housing tracks .The county gov will be all giddy at the mega property tax dollars and the residents will be stuck with peasant jobs and overcrowded roadways plus ultra expensive retail outlets selling pet rocks


mercut1469

It won’t happen anytime soon. Developers had their sights on what is now the Enos Ranch project in Santa Maria for about 50 years—and there is plenty of water for development in that area. They finally got it because SM politicians are the worst in the area, but it cost them a pretty penny.


I live on the Mesa and have worked the fields here and in Guadalupe since I was a boy and they will be growing lettuce and cauliflower below me for a very long time, no matter what happens with the idiots who run their machines on the dunes.


I personally have no problem with them—I’ve never bought the fallacy that the sands from the dunes were causing cancer on the Mesa. I’ve lived here for 73 years now and my lungs are clear (plenty of arthritis, but respiratory fine).


I will feel bad for the restaurants, bars and liquor stores who have made a living off the dunes if the state permanently closes them. But, the ag interests in this area are simply too strong for what you suggest and there is not enough money to change that.


ban the bakos

My heart is heavy, and not just from my atherosclerosis . This year We had a flu, a lockdown and rioting, but 2020 will really go down as the year we lost our ancestral duneland to soyboys and crooks.This is the sacred land where my great great grandfather Jeebus began what we call “duneing.” He fasted for 12 days under the sand, crabs scuttling over him and scratching his beard in the sweltering sun, all so he could find a better way to recreate. Then finally, he had a vision from the great dune spirit. ghostly apparitions raced atvs, drank Milwaukee beer, buried their garbage in the sand, and occasionally flew over the handlebars. Jeebus worked for decades to make that sacred vision come true. Many of us have fallen brothers and broken bones as sacrifices to the great dune spirits, so it’s time we unite our valley dna and march in pismo,- “BLM Bako Leisure Matters.” We must leave a trail of chicken wings and beer cans, as always, so people know our ancestors haven’t left. Who will join me and our valley heritage?


Downypaso

Your discrimination speaks volumes. Your self-loathing is evident.


ban the bakos

Discrimination against who? The plover lovers? Self loathing toward my great valley tribe? No chance. Back to the paso “whinery” with you


Cindy

It is criminal to let the APCD lie to bring in revenue. When the Morro Bay Power Plant started to shut down, to pay salaries the APCD went after the Oceano Dunes with their bogus claims.


The leadership at state parks has spent $15 million on fencing and plants even though they know it is not going to do anything, because they know how vindictive supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson can be.


It is time to report state parks for their failures to both the governor’s office and the legislature. At a time of budget shortfalls, spending millions on fake science is criminal.


Black_Copter_Pilot
Cindy

The plover usually nest nearby, not in the riding area. The nesting is leading to a three months delay in reopening, not a closure and not related to this issue.


r0y

Gee, Mother Nature vs. a bunch of over-paid, under-performing Marxists… I wonder who will win…?


shelworth

Using my internet skills I was able to find an actual clip of the Coastal Commission discussing this actual problem! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T505YksOJb8


Boldguy

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Coastal Act was to protect recreational opportunity for the little people against development that would take away their use:(

Instead they became the behemoth regulatory bad actor that the Coastal Act was intended to protect us against:(

Developers build houses around the recreational jewel of the state, the new residents complain about said use and the Coastal Commission wants end that use, it’s like they never understood what they were commissioned to do!!!

Like people buying houses next to an airport and then wanting the airport to go away!!!


ClayBertram

Boy is this the truth. Ive got a problem with a shooting range. A bunch of downtowners moved in and now they want to shut it down. Sometimes I feel like I’m pissin up wind. It won’t take much more before I turn down wind. This thing is working the same way. I’m starting to put my time and money into OHV in the Sierra National Forest.


varian08

Hello sir,

not sure with shooting range you are speaking about.Is it Atascadero?