Feds give oyster farm until year's end to vacate
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A popular family-owned oyster farm whose lease at the Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California has expired will be allowed to keep operating until the end of the year under a legal agreement with the federal government announced Monday.
The settlement between the National Park Service and Drakes Bay Oyster Company ends a yearslong battle over the farm's fate that pitted environmentalists against scientists and even divided California's two U.S. senators. As part of the deal, which still must be approved by a federal judge, the Park Service would cover the cost of cleaning up the site and offer rental assistance and other relocation benefits to Drakes Bay employees who live there.
In return, the company's owners, Kevin, Bob and Joe Lunny, would have to suspend their court fight and give up the right to run a commercial shellfish business at Point Reyes in the future.
"At the end of the day, although we lost this battle, it was important for us to be a voice for justice for family farms," they said in a statement. "But we also respect the rule of law. Even though we believe we were right, as good and law-abiding Americans, we accept this decision and will now move on to other things."
The estuary where the farm sits has been home to commercial oyster harvests for decades, but the Department of the Interior decided nine years ago to return it to wilderness. The company, which produced over 40 percent of California's oysters at the time, was notified in 2007 that its 40-year lease would not be renewed when it expired in 2012.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, won passage of a bill in 2009 allowing the Interior secretary to extend the lease for another 10 years. Nonetheless, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar denied a renewal in 2012, saying the oyster harvesting shouldn't be permitted in a federally designated wilderness area.
The Lunnys unsuccessfully sued to stop the ouster, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned aside their appeal. They said Monday that they plan to open an oyster restaurant at a resort within the national seashore.
During the family's effort to keep the farm open, the National Academy of Sciences produced a report alleging that park service officials exaggerated the operation's negative impact on the environment. The Interior Department's Solicitor's Office investigated the claims and concluded that park service scientists mishandled evidence and made mistakes but did not do anything illegal.
The farm originally was supposed to shut down at the end of July.
"We are pleased to have reached this settlement agreement with Drakes Bay Oyster Company," National Park Service regional director Christine Lehnertz said. "More than two and half million visitors enjoy this extraordinary place every year, and we will continue to take our stewardship responsibilities seriously on behalf of the American people."