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Marin County oyster farm wins temporary reprieve

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 3:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 7:04 a.m.

Drakes Bay Oyster Co. won a temporary reprieve Monday, when a federal appeals court ruled it could stay in business while it challenges a government shutdown order.

The terse, two-page decision effectively rescinds Thursday's deadline for the company to quit harvesting and selling oysters from Drakes Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

It also prolongs a contentious issue that has pitted the National Park Service and wilderness advocates against oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny and his supporters, with the future of one of California's leading oyster producers at stake.

"This is a great day," said Lunny, whose family has operated the business on the estero shoreline since 2004 and sought a renewal of their federal permit last year.

"It doesn't mean we won the war," Lunny added. "There's still a long journey ahead."

The Park Service had ordered Lunny to shutter his business by Thursday after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Nov. 29 that he would not renew the farm's lease, a decision applauded by wilderness advocates.

Lunny appealed the decision, but his challenge was twice denied this month by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who said she lacked jurisdiction and also rejected Lunny's arguments for the lease renewal.

On Monday, Judges Alfred Goodwin, Kim Wardlaw and Carlos Murguia of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of the closure order, saying there are "serious legal questions and the balance of hardships tips sharply in appellants' favor."

The order allows the oyster farm to stay in business at least until the appeals court can hear the case during the week of May 13.

Neal Desai, Pacific region associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association, said he was confident Rogers "got it right" in ruling that Salazar had discretion to let the lease expire and that the oyster company was unlikely to win its lawsuit.

The appeals court's ruling "unfortunately delays by two months the ability for Americans to enjoy their national park wilderness," Desai said."

The oyster farm harvests 8 million oysters a year, worth about $1.5 million, from the 2,500-acre estuary designated as wilderness on the Marin County coast.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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