Court In SF Agrees: Drakes Bay Oyster Company Must Close

A federal appeals court in San Francisco today declined to block the closure of a popular oyster farm in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2-1 decision today upheld a lower court ruling in February denying a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Drakes Bay Oyster Company to stay in business until a full trial was held on a lawsuit filed by the company.

The suit was filed last December, just days after U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar announced that he had decided not to renew the oyster farm’s permit to operate in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

In its ruling, the panel stated that the oyster company had “failed to raise a serious question about the Secretary’s decision,” and that the owners of the company had entered into the lease knowing that it was not likely to be renewed.

The owners, Kevin Lunny and his wife Nancy, bought the business from Johnson Oyster Co. in 2004, taking over the remaining years of a unique 40-year permit that allowed the farm to operate in a national seashore.

“Drakes Bay purchased the oyster farm with full disclosure, knowing that the reservation of use and occupancy was set to expire in 2012,” today’s ruling reads.

The Lunnys issued a statement today condemning the court’s decision, and vowed to keep fighting to stay in operation.

“The 9th Circuit’s decision to deny this injunction is a step backwards, not only for Drakes Bay but also for Marin County, proponents of sustainable agriculture and farmers around the country,” owner Kevin Lunny said.

“Our attorneys are now reviewing all of our options before we announce our plans for moving forward,” he said.
Salazar’s Nov. 29 decision to let the permit expire paved the way for the 1,000-acre swath of submerged estuary where Drakes Bay Oyster Company operates to return to wilderness.

Allowing the lease to expire “would result in long-term beneficial impacts to the estero’s natural environment,” Salazar wrote in his decision.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department was not immediately available to comment today, but some environmentalists hailed the ruling.

“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,” said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin.

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