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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.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Roberts
Thursday Apr 4th, 2013 10:21 AM
Interesting that you do not include the so called "Flawed Legal Theories" but only the The U.S. Department of the Interior "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.

It is obvious that you do not want the so called "Flawed Legal Theories" publicised so that readers can decide for themselves if they really are "absurd right-wing legal theories".

Kudos for living up to our expectations of leftwing biased reporting of over-reaching government environmental wackos.
by Murray Suid
Thursday Apr 4th, 2013 5:34 PM
The problem with EAC's article is that it is one-sided. This kind of partisan writing serves only to divide the community.

A simple example: If you read the EAC article, you would never know that many environmentalists support the Oyster company. Maybe those environmentalists are misguided, but it is just plain wrong to make it seem as if this debate is between those who value the environment and those who don't.

EAC, of course, is entitled to its point of view. But Indybay might wish to reach out to individuals and groups with a more balanced perspective as a way of better informing the public. There really are two valid positions in this case, with good people on both sides of the issue. Every article that paints the opposition as "bad" does a disservice to the community and increases the pain felt by many residents of West Marin.
by y_p_w
Thursday Apr 4th, 2013 5:45 PM
I would point out that the 40 year reservation of use A) didn't actually lease out the waters of Drakes Estero (leased from the California Dept of Fish and Game) and B) contained a mutual option renewal clause. I've also read the entire Point Reyes Wilderness Act. It was the first time that potential wilderness was defined, and didn't set a timetable for its conversion to full wilderness. The oyster farm itself isn't mentioned either. It only says refer to a map. It does get convoluted since the CFGC changed the terms of the water bottom leases to make them contingent on the federal reservation. However, they haven't made any moves to evict yet.

In the meanwhile, there's potential wilderness in Yosemite that has remained so indefinitely as a matter of policy. There is nothing that prevents potential wilderness from staying as such as a matter of policy like it does with the Yosemite High Sierra Camps.