06-27-14 WSJ: Oyster Farm Digs in for High Court Hearing

Oyster Farm Digs in for High Court Hearing

 

“The oyster farm’s owners, Kevin Lunny and his family, have staved off closure so far by appealing the decision in the federal courts. They are now waiting to learn whether the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case.

If the answer is yes, it would allow the Lunnys at least a few more months to continue their business, which employs 25 people and produces about a third of California-harvested oysters. The court’s decision on whether to hear the case next fall could be posted on its website Monday.

Amid the uncertainty, Mr. Lunny said he has reduced his staffing from 30 to 25, mostly through attrition. While he remains hopeful of ultimately winning the fight, he said it has taken a toll on him.

“The government is a powerful group to be up against,” said Mr. Lunny, who is being represented by pro bono attorneys. “They have unlimited resources and they just line up the lawyers.”

 

 

Businessman Staves Off Closure as Clock Runs Out on Lease in Wilderness-Designated Area Along California Coast

By Jim Carlton

 

June 27, 2014 7:03 p.m. ET

 

POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, Calif.—Bill Fischer has been making a trek to buy freshly harvested oysters along the Marin County coast here for 60 years.

“These are some of the best oysters anywhere,” said Mr. Fischer, an 82-year-old retired legal analyst from Lafayette, Calif., who walked away with a bagful after a visit to the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. near Inverness with his wife this week.

But trips here by aficionados like Mr. Fischer may soon come to an end. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in November 2012 ordered Drakes Bay to shut down after its 40-year lease with the National Park Service ended on Nov. 30, 2012.

In so doing, Mr. Salazar cited Congress’s 1976 designation of much of the Point Reyes preserve as wilderness.

The oyster farm’s owners, Kevin Lunny and his family, have staved off closure so far by appealing the decision in the federal courts. They are now waiting to learn whether the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case.

If the answer is yes, it would allow the Lunnys at least a few more months to continue their business, which employs 25 people and produces about a third of California-harvested oysters. The court’s decision on whether to hear the case next fall could be posted on its website Monday.

“I certainly hope things go your way,” Mr. Fischer, 82, told Mr. Lunny, who is 56-years-old.

Drakes Bay is one of several traditional businesses and activities located on the West’s vast federal lands that have come under pressure to close or reduce operations, often at the behest of environmental groups.

Mining claims have been taken over in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, while in Yellowstone National Park use of snowmobiles has been greatly restricted.

Ranchers throughout the West have had grazing leases on federal public land restricted or canceled, or ended their own private operations amid increasing regulatory pressures.

“People working and living on landscapes just doesn’t fit in their vision of what a national park should be,” said Laura Watt, associate professor and chair of environmental studies and planning at Sonoma State University, and a supporter of Mr. Lunny.

Interior Department and Justice Department officials wouldn’t comment, citing the pending litigation. But government supporters say Mr. Lunny knew the lease would expire in 2012 when he bought the oyster farm in 2004, but said he believed at the time it could be renewed.

“The government has acted fairly,” said Neal Desai, a director for the National Parks Conservation Association, an environmental nonprofit in San Francisco that supports closing the farm. “It’s only fair the contract is upheld.”

The fate of the oyster farm, which has been in operation on the site since 1934, has divided the area.

“Save Our Drakes Bay Oyster Farm” signs can be spotted throughout the community. Support extends across the San Francisco Bay Area, where Drakes Bay is a major supplier to restaurants such as Burgers & Vine in Sonoma, Calif.

Drakes Bay, which produces about 450,000 pounds of oyster meat annually with revenues of $1.5 million, is the largest of about a half-dozen oyster farms in the West Marin area.

If it closed, there likely would be no shortage of oysters because there are big producers elsewhere, such as in Washington state, to fill the gap. Oysters are also abundant on the global market, which includes Asia.

“It’s a crock, and you can quote me on that,” Carlo Cavallo, who owns Burgers & Vine, said of the ordered closure. “We are talking about a farm that has been there for almost 100 years.”

But some environmentalists and other backers of the closure say the farm, with its boats, buildings and processing activity, isn’t compatible with a wilderness area.

“Wilderness is a place where people can go to renew their spirits,” said Karen Gray, 67, owner of a bed-and-breakfast in nearby Point Reyes Station who supports the closure.

“And it provides for future generations refuge for the spirit,” she said.

The prospect of closure, meanwhile, is having a chilling effect on the farm and its employees. Paco Aceves, a crew supervisor who has worked at the farm for four years, said uncertainty about his employment has put college plans on hold for his oldest son.

“It’s hard to make plans for him,” said the 45-year-old father of three.

Amid the uncertainty, Mr. Lunny said he has reduced his staffing from 30 to 25, mostly through attrition. While he remains hopeful of ultimately winning the fight, he said it has taken a toll on him.

“The government is a powerful group to be up against,” said Mr. Lunny, who is being represented by pro bono attorneys. “They have unlimited resources and they just line up the lawyers.”

 

 

The article’s behind a paywall, but here’s the link:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/oyster-farm-digs-in-for-high-court-hearing-1403910202

 

 

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