Airborne particulates are anything but new to the Nipomo Mesa and surrounding region.
The Mesa is composed of Pleistocene and Holocene-era sand dune deposits, thousands of years old and several hundred feet thick. Decomposing mountainous rock, ground into sand and transported to the sea by local rivers, washes ashore with the tides — 500 million pounds of sediment per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey — and is entrained by the winds and blown inland.
“But in the earlier times, before many trees were planted, the wind blew as only wind can blow in large open space, and drifted the sand over everything. Not even a geranium could live without protection,” wrote Mrs. T.A. Allot of Santa Maria in 1912.
The San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District has struggled — not just once, but on at least four occasions dating back to 1995 — to frame that natural process as recent and man-caused. Contrary to grossly simplified reporting and sound bites, none of the air district studies have fingered vehicles for kicking up dust at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
In 2003, the air district staff wrote that “the absence of any significant ‘weekend or holiday effect’ implies that the impact of off-highway vehicle traffic on particulate levels at these monitored locations is minimal.”
A 2007 study concluded, “This study does not definitively identify the impact to particulate concentrations on the Mesa from off-road vehicle use at the Oceano Dunes.”
Finally, the most recent 2010 study again found direct emissions impact from off-highway vehicle activity “is not the major factor responsible for the high (particulate matter) levels downwind from the SVRA.”
Why does the air district continue to spend hundreds of thousands of public dollars pursuing the same conclusion? Because gaining traction would give the district much longed-for jurisdictional authority and revenue streams. Even now, the district is working on a “fugitive dust rule,” intended to override science, that will spell trouble for more than just off-highway recreation. Agriculture, construction and industry had better be paying attention.
Last July, the air district board created two committees to form a particulate matter plan. Because the committees were structured to meet in secret and closed sessions, loud unified concern was voiced by citizens usually opposed to each other on dunes issues. Information from those committees was scant, and public records requests yielded little. Eventually, I pursued formal litigation.
While simultaneously denying a correlation to my litigation, a press release announcing the disbanding of the committees came from the air district the very same day as the end of a formal 30-day demand letter served by me under provisions of the Brown Act upon one of the committees.
Interestingly, the committees did manage to somewhat realize the enormous natural forces that created our local dunes. Among the scientific projects approved and currently in progress today is a renewed look at the forces of nature outside the off-highway vehicle area.
For the interested public, I will be posting numerous particulate matter articles, along with hundreds of pages of documents concerning meetings of the two committees, at http://dunefacts.com.
As published in the Times Press Recorder on 2011 May 5: http://www.timespressrecorder.com/articles/2011/05/05/opinion/op1.txt