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California | North Bay / Marin | U.S. | Environment & Forest Defense

Oyster Company's Flawed Legal Theories Underscored by Interior Dept. Legal Brief
by Environmental Action Committee of West Marin
Thursday Apr 4th, 2013 9:22 AM
Park Service Briefing for Point Reyes Wilderness Case Underscores Oyster Company’s Flawed Legal Theories
Anti-Wilderness Oyster Company Backed By Campaign to Privatize Public Lands
POINT REYES, Calif. – The U.S. Department of the Interior filed a legal brief yesterday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that maintains compelling reasons for the court to deny a request by the controversial Drakes Bay Oyster Company for an injunction blocking the cessation of its expired commercial oyster permit on public waters within Point Reyes National Seashore. The oyster company’s main law firm, Cause of Action, has ties to the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers and Tea Party.

“The Interior Department filing discredits the absurd right-wing legal theories, half-truths and cherry-picked statements in the oyster company’s injunction request,” said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. “The Department rightly concludes that the public enjoyment of Drakes Estero as protected wilderness is the essence of fairness for this important estuary if National Park policies and long-agreed to contracts are to mean anything. We hope the appeals court will, like the district court did, see through the company’s misrepresentations and uphold the Interior Department’s decision, which is in the public interest.”

Drakes Bay Oyster Company seeks to continue cultivating non-native shellfish in Drakes Estero, the West Coast’s only federally designated marine wilderness area, despite the fact that its lease expired last November and the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declined to grant it a new operating permit. The company, backed by anti-environmental organizations seeking to privatize public land, filed a lawsuit last December challenging this decision. In February, the district court denied a request by the oyster company for an injunction that would allow it to stay open until the lawsuit is heard, but the appeals court issued an “emergency” stay pending review in mid-May.

The Interior Department filing notes that the public interest lies in honoring a 1972 taxpayer purchase agreement which gave the oyster operation 40 years to operate and in adhering to the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act that promised Americans a protected marine wilderness. The Interior Secretary fairly balanced the “competing interests” of wilderness preservation and the promotion of aquaculture, the Department notes, and after forty years, “it is the essence of fairness for the United States finally to gain control over the land that it purchased, enabling the American people to enjoy wilderness in Drakes Estero.”

The Department’s legal brief affirms that the district court was correct in concluding that it has no authority to review Salazar’s decision because Congress gave the Secretary discretionary authority to judge whether a particular use is appropriate on National Park land. Even if the court had the authority, the Secretary adequately explained a reasonable basis for choosing not to issue the oyster company a new permit, based on National Park policies and the Congressional and public intent for the area to be protected as wilderness, and the contract that the oyster company signed.

The oyster company has been in continuous violation of its permit conditions and coastal protection laws. The California Coastal Commission has issued a Cease and Desist Order against the Company for multiple egregious violations of the California Coastal Act, such as illegal and unpermitted construction in the coastal zone, driving motor boats through off-limits harbor seal protection zones, spread of invasive species, and littering of the National Seashore beaches with thousands of pieces of plastic debris, in February.