Poster boards and golden nametags surrounded a crowd of some 200 Tuesday evening for the first of three open houses hosted by Point Reyes National Seashore on the fate of Drakes Bay Oyster Company. The event, which took place at the Dance Palace, in Point Reyes Station, was marked by bright smiles and little opportunity for substantive public discussion.
It was part of the 60-day public comment period—ending November 29—on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the oyster farm, which will close in one year if Interior Secretary Ken Salazar decides not to authorize a lease extension. The draft evaluates four alternatives, one in which the farm closes next year and three that allow it to continue until 2022 at varying production capacities.
One attendee said an official greeted him at the door by saying, “Welcome to the cocktail hour.” Another woman passed out necklaces strung with oyster shells. Many wilderness advocates and members of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin sported “Go Wild” stickers.
Seashore staffers manned easels with posters that outlined the four alternatives and their potential impacts. Others scribed anonymous verbal comments from attendees, which will be gathered and posted online. A Seashore representative remarked that the comments would be weighed just as any others submitted via mail or email, but since there were multiple boards and each comment was taken without attribution, it is unclear how officials can ensure against redundancy—for example, someone visiting different boards and making the same comment over and over.
Which is exactly what oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny noted. “The people who are dead set on closing us down basically just camped out at each board making comments on how terrible the farm was,” he said. “It will never be disclosed that, in fact, only a relative few people made most of the comments.”
Seashore official Melanie Gunn said that every comment, “even if it is duplicative,” will be entered into the system, read and categorized by subject. The responses, along with a report showing the number of comments per subject, will be included in the final EIS.
Lunny said he plans to attend Wednesday and Thursday’s open houses in San Francisco and Mill Valley but expected more of the same, since “a lot of the people that care directly about issues of their food source and sustainability and the loss of local jobs are in West Marin and probably won’t be able to make it to those.”
Most of the posters just looked like blown-up pages of the draft EIS, because, in many instances, that’s what they were. “There’s nothing here that I couldn’t get in the EIS, is there?” asked Dave Brast, an Inverness resident.
Seashore scientist Dr. Ben Becker expressed general contentment with the proceedings. “I thought the … open house was very positive,” he said. “People provided thoughtful comments and asked important questions.” A number of those people, however, said that when they tried to ask rangers and staffers direct questions they were told to read the document to find an answer.
In the end, most of the action was relegated to a back corner of the room, which became increasingly plastered with the comment sheets as the evening wore on. Remarks ranged in tone, from “Stop commercial exploitation of our National Parks,” to “Why trade the impacts of the oyster farm for the impacts (adverse) of kayakers?” Some comments responded directly to others. For instance, one comment, “Examine the impacts of genetically engineered oysters/food sources on the environment and within the local/global food market,” was followed by “There are no genetically engineered oysters in the world.”
Another commenter questioned why the pending EIS does not include a fifth alternative that allows for future lease renewals and that is more viable for the operation. Lunny has said publicly that the three current extension alternatives, which come with a number of added regulations and without a lease renewal option, would effectively put him out of business in a matter of months.
The Seashore stated in the draft EIS that it considered and ultimately dismissed that option because the legislation authorizing Salazar to extend the lease “clearly mandates that the permit term be 10 years.” In fact that legislation, Public Law 111, Section 124, also states that the lease may be extended “with the same terms and conditions” as the existing authorization, which in no place prohibits renewal.