INTERIOR: Court allows oyster farm on national seashore to stay open until at least May

Jessica Estepa, E&E reporter
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A California oyster farm that was slated to close this week will remain open until at least May thanks to a decision yesterday from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In May, the court will hear Drakes Bay Oyster Co.’s appeal of a denied injunction that would keep the farm open while its lawsuit against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is still pending. Drakes Bay was supposed to shutter operations Thursday, but the court has granted an emergency motion that keeps the farm in the Point Reyes National Seashore open until it has heard the injunction case.

The decision drew praise from the company’s backers and a key Republican but criticism from environmentalists.

In the order, the court said it did so “because there are serious legal questions and the balance of hardships tips sharply in the appellants’ favor.”

The order cited another case in which the Alliance for the Wild Rockies appealed to the 9th Circuit after its injunction was denied. In that case, the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision.

“We are grateful that the Ninth Circuit has chosen to allow Drakes Bay Oyster Co. to continue operating and recognized the hardships that would have resulted from shutting down the farm before its case could be heard,” said Amber Abbasi, chief counsel for regulatory affairs at Cause of Action, a government watchdog group that is representing Drakes Bay in the case.

Oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny said he is “thrilled” that the company — which finds itself in the center of an ongoing environmental battle — will stay open while his lawsuit against Salazar continues.

“Our fight has always been about more than just our business,” he said in a statement. “Our fight is, and will continue to be, about the great service Drakes Bay Oyster Farm provides to the community as an innovative sustainable farm, an education resource and part of the economic fiber of Marin County.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, likewise praised the decision.

“Interior attempted to flat out kill this oyster farm and its jobs by using misleading science and ignoring economic impacts,” Vitter said in a statement. “I applaud the Ninth Circuit for taking this first step to recognizing that the Interior agency bureaucrats, including Ken Salazar, almost put people out of work for no good reason.”

But the environmentalists who have pushed for the farm’s closure point out that a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers still stands. Earlier this month, Gonzalez Rogers denied the injunction, saying that the court had no jurisdiction over Salazar’s decision to end Drakes Bay’s lease (Greenwire, Feb. 5).

“We are confident the district court got it right when it decided that the Interior secretary had full discretion to let the lease expire and that the oyster company was unlikely to win its lawsuit,” said Neal Desai, Pacific region associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The 9th Circuit Court’s decision today unfortunately delays by two months the ability for Americans to enjoy their national park wilderness.”