The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. will be out of business by the end of the month under order of the federal government.

The oyster farm plans on shutting down its cannery and shack in Inverness by July 31, owner Kevin Lunny said Thursday.

"That's what the park service is telling us to do, and we will abide by the law, we always have," he said.

The shack is where people go to pick up oysters and the cannery is where they are processed. The closures will put an end to the 19-month legal battle to keep the farm open.

"We can't stop the federal government," Lunny said. "That's the way it is. The end of July is the date they gave us to move out."

Loretta Murphy, manager of Drakes Bay Oyster Co., serves a line of customers that snakes out the front door on Monday, June 30, 2014, near Inverness,
Loretta Murphy, manager of Drakes Bay Oyster Co., serves a line of customers that snakes out the front door on Monday, June 30, 2014, near Inverness, Calif. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal)

Attorneys for the government and Lunny are continuing to talk, and there is a chance for an extension. But Lunny is operating under the assumption he will close this month.

Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle and the media office did not return several calls seeking comment.

The farm's gross revenue is up to $2 million annually and it employs about 25 people, many of whom live on site. Lunny is hopeful the park service will allow workers to stay beyond the closure so they could make an easier transition.

Lunny said he will have to remove his equipment -- "anything that is not nailed down" -- before he closes. The cannery and other buildings would be likely torn down by the park service. If he is forced to close at the end of the month, Lunny would be forced to dump thousands upon thousands of oysters now in Drakes Estero into a landfill.

"This is all pretty tragic for West Marin," Lunny said.

The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the company's appeal at the end of June was the fatal blow for the oyster farm as it attempted to remain open in the face of a federal government order to shut down.

Lunny's team believed the Supreme Court might have wanted to hear the case to resolve split rulings the U.S. court of appeals system had issued on interpretations of federal law. The splits in this case were on jurisdiction to review agency actions for abuse of discretion and could have set a new clear precedent. But the Supreme Court apparently did not see enough legal merit in the case to take it on.

The Drakes Bay closure order came on Nov. 29, 2012, when Ken Salazar, the interior secretary at the time, announced he would allow a 40-year lease -- originally negotiated with the Johnson Oyster Co. in 1972 and taken on by Drakes Bay -- to expire. In 1972, the federal government bought the land from Johnson for $79,200 and provided the lease. Lunny took over the lease in 2004. Salazar wrote in his decision that Lunny was explicitly informed "no new permit will be issued" after the 2012 expiration date.

The park service wants to return the area to wilderness. But Lunny said the oyster farm had legal standing to stay in the park, adding flawed science help convince officials the operation was bad for Drakes Estero. He launched a legal defense, buoyed by community support in West Marin, and sought an injunction against the closure while pursuing the larger legal case.

"What is too bad is the case itself may not been heard because we couldn't get the injunction," said Lunny, adding that all the legal arguments were not heard during the injunction matter. "We still know we are right on the law and policy." ------ (c)2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com