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U.S. Supreme Court: No Reprieve for Drakes Bay Oyster Co.

The oyster farm's owner vows to continue the fight to remain open. The farm produces one-third of oysters consumed in California.

U.S. Supreme Court: No Reprieve for Drakes Bay Oyster Co.
The owner of a popular Point Reyes oyster farm that is now facing closure said the company isn't out of options yet despite a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court today declining to grant the company's appeal.

Drakes Bay Oyster Co. owner Kevin Lunny said this morning that the Supreme Court decision refusing to hear an appeal meant to keep the farm open is "a disappointment but not really a setback."

"This is another federal decision that's taking away from the public interest of the state of California," Lunny said, noting that the farm provides about one-third of the state's oysters.

The high court's ruling comes two years after former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar declined to renew the oyster farm's lease, saying the area should be returned to wilderness.

Drakes Bay appealed to the Supreme Court in April after a federal trial judge in Oakland and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to block Salazar's decision. The 9th Circuit Court also granted the oyster farm an injunction allowing it to stay open pending its Supreme Court appeal. After this morning's decision, Lunny said he and his lawyers are evaluating their options for how to proceed but will fight to keep the farm open.

Peter Prows, the company's lawyer, said he plans to meet with federal government representatives next week. He and Lunny said the farm will remain open for now, although it's unclear for how long.

Some 30 workers stand to lose their jobs if the farm closes, Lunny said. He said support from community members, restaurateurs and customers from across the state and nation have buoyed him and his family throughout the ongoing court battle.

"There's overwhelming support for the continuation of the oyster farm. That gives us inspiration to continue to get past a day of disappointment and start moving forward into protecting this very important resource for the state of California," he said.

Lunny said he does not know whether state or federal lawmakers will step in to help save Drakes Bay, but noted that Sen. Diane Feinstein has been a vocal advocate for keeping the farm open.

The private farm grows oysters on 1,000 acres of submerged land in Drakes Bay and packages them along a 1.5-mile stretch of shoreline.

The farm also provides shellfish aquaculture that boosts the native habitat, filters the water and helps protect area species, Lunny said. Kevin and Nancy Lunny bought the farm from a predecessor in 2004 and took over the 40-year permit that expired in 2012.

Local environmental groups lauded the court's decision today. "The court made the right decision in upholding the long-anticipated oyster lease expiration that protects Drakes Estero, the wild ecological heart of Point Reyes National Seashore," Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, said in a statement.

"We look forward to a time of healing in the community and stand ready to do our part to support the workers' transition," Trainer said.

"There is nothing surprising in the court decision that has now confirmed for the fourth time that the closure of the oyster operation was a well-established matter of law and policy that Mr. Lunny was fully aware of before he bought the last few years of the lease," said Gordon Bennett, president of Save Our Seashore. "I hope that community wounds can heal and the clean-up begin so that the public and wildlife can enjoy this marine wilderness as Congress intended," Bennett said.

--Bay City News

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