Drakes Bay Oyster Farm Sues Federal Government

Ken Salazar said he didn't make his decision regarding the environment, but on law and policy

Drake's Bay Oyster Farm
NBC Bay Area

Less than a week after the U.S. Interior Secretary announced he would shut down a historic Northern California oyster farm along the Point Reyes National Seashore to designate it a wilderness area, the owner of Drakes Bay Oyster Co. filed a lawsuit  challenging that decision.

Kevin Lunny filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Monday, just days after Ken Salazar announced that he would not renew the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. lease, which expired Friday.

The suit, taken up by Cause of Action attorneys along with the Stoel Rives and SSL law firms, are alleging that Salazar and the National Park Service "ignored the U.S. Constitution, violated the National Environmental Policy Act and countless other pieces of legislation." In a statement sent on Tuesday, the lawyers also claim that Salazar "often misrepresented data" in the decision to shut down the farm. Lunny's suit is based on his assertions that his operation disturbs the estuary. In fact, according to Lunny, the scientific studies he is pointing to have shown oysters may actually improve the health of the water.

Salazar was not available for immediate comment, but he had said he based his decision not on the environment, perse, but on law and policy.

The move was thought to have brought a close to a years-long environmental battle over the site. But this suit obviously changes all that. While environmentalists had cheered Salazar's decision to return Drakes Estero to the "state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976," many oyster lovers have been standing behind Lunny.

Salazar's decision came despite the company's powerful allies, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said the facility should be saved because it is a key part of the rural economy.

Feinstein and the National Academy of Sciences had claimed the National Park Service was trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment. During the impasse, more than $1 million in taxpayer money was spent on environmental assessment studies, according to records. 

The company was seeking a 10-year extension of its lease. Lunny, whose family also operates a cattle ranch in the park, had said the history of the national seashore is one that saw commercial interests and environmentalists work together.

"It's part of the history, the community and the tradition of a coastal community,'' Lunny told NBC Bay Area in a previous interview. "It's a national seashore where working landscapes, agriculture and farming were meant to co-exist.'' Environmentalists and park officials said farm's operations threatened nearby harbor seals and other native species.

Lunny has been fighting the battle to save his business for seven years. "We just want to be farmers,"  Lunny, who grew up nearby in West Marin, told NBC Bay Area earlier. "We had no idea we were going to find ourselves in this kind of battle, that's actually turned into a national debate."

The debate has been between Lunny and environmentalists, who have squared-off in a vicious debate over science that's split the otherwise tranquil Point Reyes community.

"This has been very divisive locally," said Amy Trainer of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which had successfully lobbied for the oyster company to be shut down. The roots of the brouhaha were planted in 1976, when Congress passed legislation designating Drakes Bay as the first marine wilderness area on the West Coast. Trainer's group was "ecstatic" after Salazar's ruling last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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