Pick one: local food or protected wilderness. It's the kind of dilemma that could lead Bay Area liberals to tear their hair out.
That may be why the battle over Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has gotten so hot. Facing a death sentence as its lease runs out, the farm and an activist group on Friday filed two lawsuits against state regulators.
The new lawsuits add to the farm's existing federal action against the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who in November denied the oyster operation an extension on its lease. Salazar based his decision on National Park Service policy on commercial operations within parks and on 1970s legislation that designated the oyster operation site as potential wilderness.
The farm has gained high-profile allies, including restaurateur Alice Waters of Berkeley and Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington state Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.
The Bay City News Service reported on the latest legal round:
The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and a citizens' group have filed two similar but separate lawsuits in Marin County Superior Court to challenge recent California Coastal Commission orders that would require the oyster farm to curtail its activities.
The two lawsuits, both filed on Friday, are not part of a federal case in which the farm at Point Reyes National Seashore is challenging a decision by U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar to close it.
In the federal case, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to hear arguments in San Francisco on May 14 on the company's appeal of Salazar's decision to deny it a permit extension and thereby enable the site to return to wilderness.
The court has allowed the farm to continue operating during the appeal.
One of the Superior Court lawsuits was filed by the Marin County-based Alliance for Local Sustainable Agriculture and Phyllis Faber, an alliance member who is a former Coastal Commission member.
The second was filed soon afterwards by the oyster company.
Both suits allege the orders issued by the commission on Feb. 7 "would effectively shut down the farm," even if it wins its federal case, through expensive requirements for removal of certain equipment and changes in its operations.
"The effect of the operational constraints, cultivation restrictions and other work immediately required would be so financially onerous on the family-owned farm as to cause it to cease operations," both lawsuits say.
Zachary Walton, a lawyer for the alliance, said Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee Wednesday morning scheduled a July 9 hearing on the alliance's request for a ruling overturning the commission orders. ...
Amy Trainer, the executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, said, "This corporation has made millions of dollars cultivating shellfish in our public waters without any coastal permits, yet thinks the coastal protection rules of California somehow do not apply to it."
The committee has participated in the federal case by filing friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Salazar's decision.
Last month the farm got a boost from Waters, the Sonoma and Marin County Farm Bureaus, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Marin Hayes Street Grill and Marin County Agriculture Commissioner Stacy Carlsen, according to The Press Democrat:
Their 29-page “friend of the court” brief opposed the National Park Service's order to shut the oyster farm on Drakes Estero, asserting the move is “inconsistent with the best thinking of the modern environmental movement.”
The park service and “other traditional conservationists” seeking the closure are “stuck in an archaic and discredited preservationist paradigm,” the brief said.
Hastings has questioned the science behind Salazar's decision to evict the farm, and demanded documents related to it.
Serious questions have been raised about the science used by the National Park Service to justify the closure of the oyster farm. This includes a scientific integrity complaint filed by a member of the National Academy of Sciences that alleged the Department manipulated scientific data to overestimate disturbance to harbor seals and other impacts on the National Seashore soundscape. For example, the draft estimated the farm’s impact by using sound measurements for a jet ski from New Jersey and a cement mixer and failed to explain their use as substitutes for the farm’s actual boats and equipment. The Office of the Inspector General issued a report dismissing these scientific integrity allegations.
Meanwhile Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has introduced a bill that would extend the farm's lease — as well as issuing permits for building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Lunny was "taken aback" when he learned about the bill, according to The New York Times:
“Now people are saying we’re connected to right-wing groups, that we’ll have offshore drilling and it’ll be Drakes Bay Oyster’s fault that the Keystone pipeline gets built,” Mr. Lunny said. “And we’re saying: ‘Where does this come from? Oh, my gosh.’ Other groups that we may or may not agree with have taken up the cause.”