PD Editorial: Truth on the half shell in oyster debate

  • In this photo taken Wednesday Nov. 21, 2012, is the exterior of an oyster shack is shown at the Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, said he will shut down an historic Northern California oyster farm along Point Reyes National Seashore, designating the site as a wilderness area. Salazar said he will not renew the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. lease that expires Friday. The move will bring a close to a years-long environmental battle over the site. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

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.

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