A federal judge on Monday denied Drakes Bay Oyster Co's request to have its removal from Point Reyes National Seashore overturned, and ruled against allowing it to continue doing business in the park while its lawsuit is being heard in court.
The judge denied owner Kevin Lunny's request to void Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's November refusal to renew the historic oyster farm's lease for another 10 years.
The rulings dealt a blow to the popular oyster farm's last-ditch effort to remain in business beyond its March 15 eviction date.
Point Reyes National Seashore was added to the national parks system by Congress in 1962, and protects more than 80 miles of California coastline. It is managed by the National Park Service, which is part of the Interior Department.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote in her decision that she did not believe she had authority to overturn Salazar, and that even if she did, "plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of the claims."
"We are disappointed in the judge's decision to deny our request for a preliminary injunction," said Amber Abbasi, an attorney whose nonprofit group, Cause of Action, has been helping Drakes Bay in its legal fight. "Without this injunction, not only will a small business close, but families will be forced out of their homes, and the community will lose a sustainable farming resource.
"The Lunnys are weighing their options for next
Salazar, in denying Lunny's request to extend the lease, said the land should be returned to wilderness status as Congress decided in the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act. He ordered Lunny to remove all of the farm's property from the pristine waters of the 2,200-acre Drakes Estero.
Environmentalists and park officials said the oyster farm's motor boats and equipment threaten nearby harbor seals and polluted the otherwise clean waters.
"It's been a long battle, the judge studied it very carefully and I think she made the right decision," said Dr. Martin Griffin, a longtime Sonoma-Marin conservationist and physician.
Lunny's oyster farm, however, found a powerful ally in Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who charged that the National Park Service was trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment. The National Academy of Sciences also questioned the park service's scientific findings.
Interior spokesman Blake Androff said he would not comment because the case is still ongoing.
Longtime oyster farm opponent Gordon Bennett, president of Save Our Seashore, was pleased by the ruling.
"We have been saying the same thing for eight years; the court just affirmed it," said Bennett. "We said all along that it was a policy decision. This policy has been in effect since the 1976 Wilderness Act was passed.
Designation of the estero as federally protected wilderness included giving the oyster farm a 40-year lease.
"Mr. Lunny knew it (the oyster farm) was intended to close in 2012 and he decided to ignore it. He should have made some provisions for closure and taken care of his employees, but apparently he hasn't," Bennett said.
The oyster farm has operated in the estero for decades.
In 2004, Lunny bought the business and lease from the Johnson Family, which had run it for more than 60 years. He has transformed the operation into a $1.5 million per year business, with 31 employees and 19 million oysters growing in the estero.
Supporters have defended the oyster farm as a historic business and a successful example of aquaculture, which should be encouraged rather than closed down.
Marin Independent Journal reporters Will Jason and Janis Mara contributed to this report.