Friday, September 13, 2013

The Small California Oyster Company Versus the Government

The Little Oyster Company Versus the Government: What’s Wrong With California The world is your oyster, but not for the Lunnys. Life is an oyster, but not for the Lunnys. The Johnson Oyster Company commenced operations in the 1932 in Drakes Estero on the Point Reyes Peninsula. Drakes Bay is believed to be where Sir Francis Drake came ashore 430 years ago. Congress created the 71,028 acres Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California in 1962. The national seashore encompasses the majestic seashore, centered on the Point Reyes Peninsula, in Marin County north of San Francisco. A couple of dozen farms and ranches continue to operate within the Park. The National Park Service (NPS) purchased the Johnson Oyster Company land for $79,200 in 1972, but offered the sellers a 40 year lease, scheduled to expire November 30, 2012. Congress in 1976 designated Drakes Estero as a “potential wilderness area.” The closure of the oyster farm would convert the area into one of the first marine wilderness areas on the West Coast. The Lunny family purchased the Johnson Oyster Company in late 2004, realizing that the lease would expire in 2012. They hoped for an extension. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar held he had no authority to extent the lease in light of the 1976 stature, whereupon Senator Dianne Feinstein (D. Cal.) attached a rider to a 2010 appropriations bill, giving the Secretary discretion to extend the lease for an additional ten years. The farm supplies 40% of the oysters consumed in California. It produces 8 million Pacific oysters annually. The National Park Service published a report in 2007 that claimed the oyster farm was harming a neighboring colony of harbor seals, but retracted it after major flaws were discovered in the analysis. The National Academy of Sciences reviewed the Park Service’s study and wrote the The NPS had “selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific evidence on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operations. “ The Lunnys operate a cattle ranch on neighboring land. Their ranch was the first in Point Reyes to raise organic beeef. Secretary Salazar announced on November 29, 2012 that he was not renewing the lease, now held by the Lunnys and the renamed Drakes Bay Oyster Company. A court order provided a temporary reprieve to the Lunny’s, but the Court of Appeals held against them last week in a 2:1 opinion. The majority saw no reason to second guess the exercise of the Secretary’s discretion. The operators had been reducing operations in light of the uncertainty, dropping to 21 employees from 30. Bills are pending in Congress to save the farm. Even if it passes, the Lunny’s face problems from a second front. The California Coastal Commission recently issued its second cease and desist order against the Drake Bay Oyster Company for failure to obtain the necessary state permits under the Coastal Act. Citizen suits are threatened against the company.

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