Government cedes time to oyster farm

12/20/2012

The federal government has rescinded demands that Drakes Bay Oyster Company refrain from planting seed and that it remove buildings, including all employee housing, by the end of February.

In a small victory for Kevin Lunny and his workforce, the Department of Justice, which is defending Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis in a lawsuit filed early this month, lifted the orders after Mr. Lunny’s attorneys requested a temporary restraining order against federal officials last week.

The decision gives Mr. Lunny a green light to place his next round of juvenile oysters, one year shy of harvest, on racks in Drakes Estero, and to keep the 10 or so workers he said he would otherwise have been forced to lay off. Under the new agreement he has until March 15 to remove personal property from the onshore area he has leased from Point Reyes National Seashore for the past seven years.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lunny’s attorneys await an answer to a request for a preliminary injunction that would allow the oyster farm to remain in operation until the lawsuit is resolved. The suit charges the Interior Department and park service with violations of the Fifth Amendment, the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws. Judge Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte of the Federal District Court of Northern California will hear the request for injunction on January 25.

Seated at picnic tables a stone’s throw from the pristine waters of Drakes Estero late last week, the oyster farm employees gathered around Mr. Lunny to hear an update on the rapidly changing status of their futures.

“I was struggling with the legal terms in Spanish, and I was also getting a little emotional,” Mr. Lunny said. “So I asked [an employee] to interpret. Then one of the women asked me, ‘What do we do?’ And I said, ‘You have to do what’s best for your family. It’s okay. We will help you and support you.’ She stood up and walked over to me, in an almost ceremonial way, and said, ‘Kevin, I will be here until your last day, and five minutes after you leave.’ Then each and every one of them came over and said the same thing.”