Enviros intervene in oyster farm lawsuit

12/13/2012

Four nonprofit environmental groups have petitioned to intervene in the lawsuit filed last week by Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar evicted at the termination of its 40-year lease.

Amy Trainer of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (EAC), Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association, Gordon Bennett of Save Our Seashore and Johanna Wald of the Natural Resources Defense Council submitted the motion in hopes of intervening on behalf of the defendants named in the case—National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and Sec-

retary Salazar.

The 23-page motion, submitted by the San Francisco nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, argues with virtually every statement contained in the lawsuit, from the description of the oyster farm as small and sustainable to the lawsuit’s interpretation of letters and historical documents. It claims that the court “lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of some or all of” the oyster farm’s claims; that some or all of the farm’s claims are “barred by the exhaustion requirements” of the National Environmental Protection Act and other laws; and that the farm “lacks standing to bring some or all of the claims they
allege.”

Earthjustice did not return calls requesting comment.

The motion, which will be considered by Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the United States District Court for the Northern California District on January 15, concludes by asking the judge to deny the oyster farm’s request for injunctive relief, to dismiss the complaint, and to compensate EAC for its costs and attorney’s fees related to the filing.

But the meat of the motion is in the accompanying written testimony, declared under the penalty of perjury, by the four applicants. “During the dozens of hikes I have taken around [Drakes] Estero and on the Seashore’s beaches, I regularly find multiple pieces of the oyster company’s plastic debris,” Ms. Trainer, executive director of the EAC since 2010, wrote. “In fact, it is more likely that you will find some of their plastic debris than not. I have heard and seen the oyster company’s motor boats in the Estero on numerous occasions. The boats flush birds that are resting and feeding and create an offensive, unnatural sound that is not conducive to a wilderness experience.”

Mr. Bennett, who identified himself as president of the nonprofit Save Our Seashore, said he has been a volunteer observer of wildlife on Drakes Estero for 11 years. “I have documented in recent springs numerous fresh-dead harbor seal pups whose necropsies found milk in the stomachs, which is indicative of a traumatic separation from the mother seal,” he wrote. “Every time I see [an oyster farm] boat in the Estero or a piece of their plastic on the beach, I am reminded of those dead seal pups with their mothers’ milk still in their bellies, and I am deeply concerned about the effects those boats and oyster workers have when they ‘share’ the same sandbars that the seals need for nursing their pups.”

Mr. Bennett expressed his disappointment that Secretary Salazar gave the oyster farm 90 days to wind down operations, and said the interim period requires “immediate steps to be taken to curb some of the worst environmental threats posed by” the oyster farm, including the immediate removal of all [non-native] Manila clams.

Ms. Wald, who has served as an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council for 40 years, and Mr. Desai had similar comments. Both stated that Drakes Estero is the first and only marine wilderness on the West Coast; however, in 1999, 1,752 acres of potential wilderness in Point Reyes National Seashore—including Muddy Hollow, Abbotts Lagoon and Estero de Limantour—were converted to designated wilderness.