Ken Salazar, the US Interior Secretary, is expected to make a decision soon on whether to move forward with the creation of the first marine wilderness on the West Coast — or take the unprecedented step of delaying it for at least ten years so that an oyster farm can keep operating. The farm's federal lease in Drakes Estero at Point Reyes National Seashore is scheduled to expire on November 30. But as that date approaches, the farm, Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC), is once again in hot water with state regulators.
In a strongly worded enforcement letter sent late last month, the California Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over some of the oyster farm's operations, warned DBOC that it intends to commence official proceedings against it for repeated violations of state law. The commission has the power to levy steep fines against the oyster farm; it fined DBOC $61,500 for illegal activities in 2009.
Over the years, DBOC officials and their supporters have portrayed the oyster farm as an eco-friendly business. And they have argued that Secretary Salazar should extend DBOC's federal permit — and thus delay the creation of the marine wilderness — because they say the oyster farm is a sustainably run operation.
But state records show that DBOC has flouted California environmental laws. The Coastal Commission's October 24 letter noted that the oyster farm has been operating without the required state permits since 2007. "As you know, your facility remains unpermitted under the Coastal Act," wrote Charles Lester, executive director of the Coastal Commission, addressing DBOC's owner, Kevin Lunny.
Lester also noted that the oyster farm has been illegally operating boats in protected areas of Drakes Estero; has abandoned plastic materials that it uses in its farming operations; and has illegally dug a long electrical trench.
Lunny has repeatedly failed to heed the commission's warnings. In an interview earlier this year, he contended that state regulators have been persecuting him. Commission officials strongly deny that charge. "The reality is: He still doesn't have any permits," commission spokeswoman Sarah Christie said in a June interview. "Not only have we not persecuted him, we've been more than fair."
Amy Trainer, executive director of The Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, said the commission's letter provides further proof that DBOC is not what it claims to be. "This is what the company [DBOC] calls environmental stewardship — it's a joke."
The commission plans to begin cease-and-desist proceedings in December, although that could change if Salazar decides to not extend the oyster farm's lease.