Northern California Oyster Farm Renews Bid to Open

A coalition of farmers, restaurateurs and others have launched a new legal battle to keep open a popular Northern California oyster operation ordered closed by the federal government.

Drakes Bay Oyster Co. closed its retail store on July 31 after the U.S. Department of the Interior refused to renew its 40-year lease along the Point Reyes National Seashore. The department cited environmental concerns.

The group filed its lawsuit earlier this year, arguing that the farm's closure would harm the local economy. The Department of the Interior disputes any of the plaintiffs will suffer harm because of the farm's closure. The government also argues that the lawsuit was filed too late. Drakes was notified in 2007 that its lease would not be renewed when it expired in 2012. The judge considering the case is also questioning whether the plaintiffs have "standing'' to file the lawsuit on behalf of the oyster farm.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers is scheduled to consider the lawsuit in Oakland on Tuesday. The Santa Rose Press Democrat reported Saturday that the judge's decision could influence how private industries such as ranching, lumber and mining use federal lands.

Drakes owner Kevin Lunny's legal fight to remain open failed earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up his case after a federal appeals court sided with the government.

The case garnered national attention because it pitted advocates of sustainable and local farming against environmentalists who feared the operation would harm a nearby harbor seal colony.

In shuttering the oyster farm, the Interior Department cited a 1976 congressional decision to return the waters of Drakes Estero to wilderness status.

The department also cited research critical of the operation's effects on harbor seals, which use the estuary to reproduce.

Scrutiny of the research, however, unearthed errors and omissions that critics say showed park officials had an agenda to get rid of the oyster farm.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, authored 2009 legislation allowing the Interior secretary to issue 10-year permits. Nonetheless, the department declined to issue a permit to the oyster farm.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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