Interior secretary tours controversial Drakes Estero oyster farm

  • Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, center, talks DrakeÕs Bay Oyster Company part-owner Kevin Lunny, left, during a tour at the Point Reyes National Seashore near Point Reyes Station, California on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar toured the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Wednesday, meeting with operators of a controversial oyster farm on Drake's Estero and environmental activists who want to close it.

Dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, Salazar walked the muddy grounds of the family-owned Drake's Bay Oyster Company, which is seeking renewal of an historic agreement that expires Nov. 30.

He listened to owner Kevin Lunny, who produces 40 percent of the state's oysters, and spoke in Spanish to the mostly Latino workers as they shucked and sorted the shell fish.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company


Then Salazar made the short trip to Park Service headquarters at Pt. Reyes Station, where wildlife advocates urged him to end oyster farming on the 2,500-acre estuary out of concern that it endangers marine mammals and vital grasses.

Salazar said he would review a recently completed environmental study — which recommended no preferred uses — before announcing a decision next week.

Throughout the visit, the former Colorado senator seemed torn by the legal agreement calling for the return of the land to the Park Service by 2012 and the deep-rooted agricultural heritage of west Marin County.

"It's a very special place," said Salazar, seated at a picnic table overlooking the estero with Lunny and others. "This is not going to be an easy decision for me."

However, it's Salazar's call to make. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein authored legislation giving him sole discretion to either terminate the permit or renew it for up to 10 years.

Either choice could lead to drawn-out legal challenges. The government already spent $2 million to prepare an environmental analysis of the farm.

Salazar's aides said the final document was published late Tuesday on the Park Service website. It spells out alternative uses for the land but doesn't suggest any change from the oyster farming, which has been going on for 100 years.

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