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Interior Secretary Salazar to meet on oyster farm controversy in Marin County

  • This Aug.13, 2012 U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speaking in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill, file)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will meet Wednesday in Marin County with stakeholders in the controversy over the federal permit that allows Drakes Bay Oyster Company to operate in the protected waters of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Salazar is scheduled to meet with the family-run oyster company, including owner Kevin Lunny, at the farm on the edge of Drakes Estero, a 2,500-acre estuary designated by Congress as potential wilderness.

Later, he will meet at Point Reyes Seashore headquarters with wilderness advocates who want Lunny's permit terminated when it expires on Nov. 30.

Lunny said he did not know whether Salazar would announce a decision Wednesday on the permit. Interior Department officials have told him that Salazar will make a decision by Nov. 30, Lunny said.

Interior Department officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The Lunny family maintains that harvesting $1.5 million worth of oysters a year from the estero's cold, clear water is an ideal example of sustainable food production in a wilderness area.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein authored legislation giving Salazar sole discretion to either terminate the permit or renew it for up to 10 years.

Amy Trainer, executive director of the West Marin Environmental Action Committee, said she will participate in the second meeting with Salazar, involving about 10 members of the “wilderness coalition.”

Her group and other oyster farm critics say the shallow estero, with abundant eelgrass beds and a harbor seal colony, should become pure wilderness, defined by law as a place “untrammeled by man.”

Lunny said he will take Salazar on a half-hour tour of the farm, then meet with him for another 30 minutes, along with several community members who are “familiar with the issues” involving the permit dispute.

The National Park Service, in evaluating the oyster farm's impact on the estero, has “made claims that were unsubstantiated,” Lunny said.

“Secretary Salazar is going to see with his own eyes what we really do,” Lunny said, calling the meeting “a great opportunity.”

Trainer, whose 41-year-old nonprofit group is based in Point Reyes Station, 10 miles from the oyster farm, said she did not know what would emerge from Salazar's visit Wednesday.

“The sense I get is he's coming out to meet with the stakeholders,” she said.

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