Oyster farm draws varied support in court battle

  • The Drakes Bay Oyster Farm near Inverness, on Thursday, November 29, 2012. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will shut down the oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore, designating the site as a wilderness area. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

An embattled oyster farm in the Point Reyes National Seashore is a legitimate exception to the Wilderness Act, a San Rafael attorney asserted.

"Savoring a Drakes Estero oyster is a wilderness experience," concluded the federal court brief filed by James Linford, representing a nonprofit group that supports an historic cabin in the Eldorado National Forest.

For ranchers grazing on 8 million acres of federally owned land in California, the oyster company's case raises "a question of exceptional importance," said lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group that favors "limited government" and "a balanced approach to environmental regulation."

Jorge Mata and Isela Meza, employees at Drakes Bay Oyster Company represented by a Legal Aid of Marin lawyer, said that closing the farm would be "devastating" to about 30 workers and their families.

The diverse arguments come from eight "friend of the court" briefs filed in the last three weeks in support of oyster company owner Kevin Lunny's request for a rehearing by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The briefs, totalling 150 pages, are intended to convince the appeals court to reconsider its 2-1 decision in September rejecting Lunny's bid to continue harvesting oysters from the 2,500-acre estero in Marin County's Point Reyes Peninsula.

A majority of the 9th Circuit's 28 judges must vote to accept a case for rehearing by a panel of 11 judges, which Lunny requested in mid-October.

If the court is so inclined, it will ask the Interior Department to submit a response, likely within 45 days, said Peter Prows, a San Francisco attorney who is one of the lawyers providing Lunny with free legal services.

The eight briefs, technically known as amicus briefs, were filed by people "who came to us asking how they could help," Prows said.

It could take months for the court to decide on Lunny's request, he said, noting that no decision has been made on similar requests made in April and June.

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