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Drakes Bay Oyster Company to shut down by end of July

  • Drakes Bay Oyster Company workers stack French tubes used in raising oysters, Friday July 11, 2014 in Inverness. The company is starting to dismantle its operation after the latest in a series of appeals to stay open failed. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Ending a 19-month battle to stay open, Drakes Bay Oyster Co.'s owners have announced they'll be closing the face of their operation, the cannery and retail oyster shack.

“Frankly, it's absolutely horrifying,” owner Kevin Lunny said Friday. He and his family took over operations of the large-scale, long-running oyster farm in 2005. “I spent the day out there today. It's tragic to see our workers' faces.”

Lunny said this isn't necessarily the end for his oyster farm: He and his wife are still considering other legal options. But those options are suddenly more complicated now that the company has begun dismantling its operations.

The closure comes at the end of a prolonged legal fight to keep open the Marin County oyster farm, which has been operating in federally protected Drakes Estero in Point Reyes National Seashore on a 40-year permit that expired in 2012. The 2,500-acre estuary is home to sensitive vegetation and wildlife including eel-grass beds and a harbor seal colony, and the park service wants to restore the land to wilderness.

In November of 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declined to renew the permit and said the farm must move out within 90 days.

The Lunnys sued and filed numerous appeals, claiming that Salazar's decision was flawed. They also asked to be allowed, through a court injunction, to continue farming while the lawsuit was pending. They took that matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But last week, the high court declined to hear the case, ending the injunction and, according to some environmental advocates, indicating “the end of the road” for the oyster farm.

Lunny acknowledged that the court's decision left his family without legal options to keep the farm open.

“We can no longer stop the park service from shutting us down even though (the actual lawsuit) hasn't been ruled on and we think we're right,” he said. He said he and his wife are still considering amending and moving forward with that suit, which is currently in U.S. District Court. They have until the end of August to do so.

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