Drakes Bay Oyster Co. takes fight to court

January 25, 2013 10:15:48 PM PST
A years-long battle over the fate of a North Bay oyster farm has moved to a federal courtroom. It may be the farm's final chance for survival.

The Drakes Bay Oyster Company is seeking a temporary injunction to keep the operation open beyond a Feb. 28 deadline for them to close up shop. A judge heard arguments on both sides late into the afternoon.

Owner Kevin Lunny will have to wait at least a while longer to find out if his Drakes Bay Oyster Company will stay open past next month.

"Absolutely hopeful; we think this is a matter of law and our attorneys did an amazing job," he said.

In a courtroom packed with Drake's Bay supporters, an Oakland federal judge heard two hours of argument, but did not issue a ruling on Lunny's request for a temporary injunction that would keep the farm open at least a little longer.

As it is now, Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar has ordered the Drake's Bay operation shut down by Feb. 28, but farm supporters say that order is illegal.

In 1976, Congress designated the larger Drake's Estero a future protected wilderness area. And last November, Salazar announced the National Park Service would not renew the oyster operation's lease to fulfill that 36 year old commitment.

It's a move supported by several Bay Area environmental groups.

"They just bought the place seven years ago; they were well aware of the deadline and now it's time to return this place to taxpayers and all of us who own this property and would like to see the marine wilderness protected," National Parks Conservation Association spokesperson Neal Desai said.

If the oyster farm closes, 31 employees will lose their jobs. About half of those live on the property and they would have to move.

"This is a big part of our community; we're going to lose a lot of jobs there, we're going to lose a clean, sustainable source of food," former employee Millie Biller said.

In her questioning Friday, the judge here seemed to be focusing on whether her court has jurisdiction to review a discretionary decision made by Salazar. She did not indicate when her written ruling will be issued.


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