Embattled Oyster Farm Didn’t Ask for Help From Republicans, But They’re Getting It

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The small, dockside operation near Point Reyes, California now employs 21 people. Photo: Earthworm/Flickr

Today the New York Times takes up the ongoing saga of Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and their bid to appeal a federal court decision that seeks to kick them off of the Point Reyes National Seashore. As we noted in March, an anonymously funded, conservative-leaning watchdog group took up the oyster farm's cause, likely because of the case's relevance for the oil industry on federal land in other states. Now, much to the surprise of the Lunny family who own Drakes Bay Oyster Co., the extension of the farm's land lease has been included in a Republican-backed energy bill — a bill that also expedites the controversial, 2,000-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. But this has all happened without the consultation of the Lunnys, and they're pretty uncomfortable with it. Being forcibly in bed with the oil industry, says Kevin Lunny, is "not really in our best interest."

The story is complicated, too, by the fact that it's pitted normally friendly allies like sustainable food advocates and environmentalists against each other. A lot of people in Northern California's food world, including Alice Waters and longtime critic and restaurant owner Patricia Unterman, have come out in support of the oyster farm as a perfectly compatible aquaculture use on the coastline. But Marin County environmentalists have all fallen on the side of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the 1972 agreement that only allowed the farm to exist until 2012.

Has the oyster farm had any negative impacts? At least one study, done in 2007, blamed the oyster farm for harming a nearby colony of harbor seals, though that finding is in dispute. The California Coastal Commission also cited the farm for other violations, including digging an illegal electrical trench, leaving behind plastic material, and operating boats in protected areas. And technically the farm hasn't had a permit to do what they're doing since 2007, despite having been in this spot for 48 years.

Now that the Drakes Bay lease has been linked with the oil pipeline, which was the cause of protests during last week's Bay Area visit by President Obama, environmental activists have even more ammunition to suggest that extending the lease sets a bad precedent for the protection of federal lands.

A conclusion should come in this case by mid-May, when the oyster farm's stay of execution from the 9th Circuit ends. Though, who knows ... this could end up on the Supreme Court docket next year.

Oyster Farm Caught Up in Pipeline Politics [NYT]
Earlier: Conservative Org, Backed By the Koch Brothers, Helping Fight for Drakes Bay Oyster Co.
Drakes Bay Oyster Co. Gets Yet Another Reprieve From the 9th Circuit
Drakes Bay Oyster Co. Is Kaput