Monday, February 4, 2013

Updated: Judge Denies Oyster Farm’s Request to Stay Open

By Robert Gammon
Mon, Feb 4, 2013 at 4:15 PM

A federal judge on Monday denied a request by the owners of Drakes Bay Oyster Company to remain open while they go forward with their lawsuit against US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The ruling by district Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers also provided a strong indication that she will ultimately throw out the oyster farm’s suit and force the business to close permanently. Gonzales Rogers ruled that the federal courts do not have the legal authority to overturn Salazar’s decision to not renew the oyster farm’s lease at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Drakes Estero
  • Drakes Estero
Kevin Lunny, the owner of the oyster farm, is expected to appeal the judge’s decision. He is being represented in court by a Washington DC nonprofit that has ties to the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers and the Republican Party, which have both sought to strengthen the rights of private businesses that operate on public land.

In November, Salazar decided to allow the oyster farm’s lease at Point Reyes to expire, saying his decision was based on law and policy. It has long been the policy of the National Park Service to not renew leases of so-called “non-conforming uses,” like the oyster farm, on land designated by Congress to become wilderness. Congress made that designation for Drakes Estero in 1976, but allowed the oyster farm to remain operating until its lease expired in November 2012.

After Salazar’s decision, Lunny sued, and then requested that Gonzales Rogers stay the secretary’s decision while his lawsuit moved through the courts. But the judge ruled on Monday that even if she had the legal authority to review Salazar’s decision, she would still deny the oyster farm’s request because she said Lunny and his lawyers could not show that they are likely going to win the case.

Update 4:35 p.m. Environmentalists are hailing the judge's decision.

"The court rightly decided that Secretary Salazar had full discretion to let the oyster operation permit expire on its own terms and honor the 1976 wilderness designation for Drakes Estero," stated Amy Trainer, executive director, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. "We are very grateful for this decision, which supports the Estero's full wilderness protection, and we urge the company to fulfill its long-standing responsibility to its workers by assisting them during this time of transition."

"The court ruling affirms that our national parks will be safe from privatization schemes, and that special places like Drakes Estero will rise above attempts to hijack Americans' wilderness," stated Neal Desai, Pacific Region associate director, National Parks Conservation Association. "Taxpayers can rejoice that the land they bought and own in Point Reyes National Seashore will now be protected as planned after 40 years of waiting."

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