Park management flip-flopped on Lunny operation

07/24/2014

In the July 17 Point Reyes Light, Gordon Bennett counters the letter to the community from the Lunny family (July 10). Bennett’s op-ed is full of half-truths and innuendo, and is disingenuous. 

While the Lunnys were told fairly early on by park superintendent Don Neubacher that the park service did not intend to renew the lease in 2012, the lease DID have a renewal clause. Neubacher told me personally that the lease couldn’t be extended, so he lied to me. I’ve seen the original lease with the renewal clause. It isn’t particularly strong, but it’s there. 

As the Lunnys described, Neubacher gave Kevin Lunny his blessing to take over the lease. But, he then wanted Lunny to sign a quitclaim ensuring that he would abandon the operation in 2012. Why? Because the lease could be renewed if the parties agreed. Lunny refused to sign under such duress.

I’m sure that Charlie Johnson was told, or certainly heard, that wilderness status wasn’t a problem. To make room for a Limantour Estero wilderness area he had reduced his lease area considerably already, and the remaining growing area was outside the wilderness zone, albeit in a “potential” wilderness that would become permanent if and when the aquaculture operations ever ceased. (By the way, the aquaculture lease, administered by CA Department of Fish and Wildlife—at that time called Fish and Game—runs until 2029. The 2012 NPS administered lease is only for the on-land facilities, and is entirely within the agricultural “Pastoral” zone.) 

Charlie Johnson didn’t need a lawyer by 2003; he had been dead for some time by then. What puzzles me is that, not long before then, Don Neubacher was helping to plan a three-fold expansion of the oyster cannery with permanent facilities. I wrote a letter to the park service, warning them that expansion of the cannery ought not have commensurate increases in the oyster racks. Don had told me years before that nobody was going to try to put them out of business, but he and then the park service suddenly changed tune. 

Johnson’s did not run a very good operation, in my opinion: they left a lot of trash around and struggled to keep the business going. The Lunnys were capable of cleaning the place up and running a great business. That’s exactly what they’ve done, despite continual harassment and legal maneuvers to prevent them from addressing the Coastal Commission’s Cease and Desist Orders that date to Johnson’s operations. 

That Bennett points to the 2003-2005 document as proof that the park’s decision “was made on the basis of law and policy long before the scientific controversies broke out in 2007” is utter hyperbole. Bennett said during a meeting I attended in early 2005 that “it will be difficult to get rid of (Lunny) if he runs a good operation” and “we should make it so (Lunny) doesn’t want to (continue) beyond 2012.” I countered Bennett at that time, saying that “if Lunny is capable of cleaning up the place, shouldn’t we help him? And, why not let him run it longer if it is well run?” Instead of the loose business-as-usual attitudes under the Johnsons’ ownership, suddenly the park and supporters such as Bennett began their ardent campaign and made it extremely difficult to even repair a leaking roof. 

While the Lunnys knew about the “decision,” it is fairly obvious that this decision was based on malleable behind-scene politics, not on hard science nor consideration of the defacto wilderness designation, and certainly not the grave effects on wildlife, and water and noise pollution (all subsequently disproved) that Bennett et al were crying about. So, Bennett is now saying that this crying, and the “science,” plus the meeting (which I was excluded from) he had with Secretary Salazar “did not drive Secretary Salazar’s decision on the oyster operation...nor will ranch-science claims mandate outcomes in the upcoming ranch planning process.” I recall that Bennett has repeatedly said he supports ranching in the pastoral zone.

It’s too bad we have lost an opportunity for the park service to work cooperatively with the people who have done far more to protect habitat values than the park service itself. We could have had public-educational working-with-habitat and habitat values demonstration, and science, instead of conservation myopia. 

 

Ken Fox is a longtime Inverness resident and president of the Tomales Bay Association.