The saga of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. in west Marin County continues in a federal courthouse in San Francisco today where arguments will be presented in an appeal to keep the oyster farm in operation.
Meanwhile, the debate continues in the court of public opinion where conservative groups have attempted to portray this as a David and Goliath story — that of a small-time business owner struggling to stay alive amid the punishing and capricious dictates of a federal bureaucracy.
Baloney. Say what you want about whether former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the right decision in denying Drakes Bay permission to continue operating in a federally protected estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore. But one can hardly call the decision either arbitrary or capricious, as the owners of the oyster company are contending in their appeal.
Nor can anyone rationally call this either a sudden or surprising decision.
Let's look at the facts.
The oyster company has been operating on borrowed time for more than 40 years. In 1972, the federal government paid the previous owners of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. roughly $80,000 to compensate them for the loss of their business — with the understanding that the lease in Drakes Estero would expire on Nov. 30, 2012.
Furthermore, when the current owners bought the oyster farm for $260,000 in 2004, it was with the understanding that the government-issued lease would expire in eight years. At that point, it was expected that the estero would become a true wilderness area, with no commercial operations in the area. One can only imagine how much higher the price of the company would have been had there been more time on the lease.
Salazar certainly had the option of extending the lease for another 10 years or so. But in his carefully worded decision in November, he said he declined to do so for "legal and policy" reasons, not on the fuzzy science about whether the oyster company operations harmed the local environment.
Salazar concluded that when Congress established a wilderness area within Point Reyes National Seashore in 1976, it "clearly expressed its intention that the estero become designated wilderness by operation of law."
So he played the final card.
Unfortunately, these facts have been lost in the murky political waters that now engulf this debate. The oyster farm controversy has drawn the attention of and support from a variety of groups, from sustainable-food proponents to tea party supporters to a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group with connections to the wealthy ultaconservative Koch brothers. A 10-year extension of the company's lease has even been included in a Republican energy bill in Congress — a bill that also would give the go-ahead to the nearly 2,000-mile Keystone XL pipeline.
It also calls for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for gas and oil development and more offshore drilling.
This is becoming a parody of modern politics.
Don't be fooled by those who want to make this issue into something more than it is. This is not about the federal government being heavy-handed. It's about federal authorities keeping a 40-year-old promise to create the first marine wilderness on the West Coast.
It's about time — time finally running out for a company that knew it was on the clock but now wants to pretend otherwise. It's time to move on.