SAN FRANCISCO There is no joy in mudville. A family-owned oyster farm in the Point Reyes National Seashore has struck out in a federal court bid to maintain operations.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled Monday that she had no jurisdiction to intervene in the dispute between Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and the U.S. Department of the Interior. And even if she did have jurisdiction, Gonzalez Rogers would be ruling for the government, she wrote.
The farm, located in the Drakes Bay Estero, has operated under a 40-year lease with the federal government that expired Nov. 30. Since the estuary's designation as potential wilderness in 1976, the business has been the only entity standing in the way of full wilderness status.
Although Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar had acknowledged "scientific uncertainty and a lack of consensus in the record regarding the precise nature and scope of the impacts" of the company's operations, he declined to renew the company's permit in November.
The company mounted an aggressive challenge to that decision, with more than 80 spectators both company supporters and environmental advocates opposed to continued farming turning out for last month's federal court hearing in Gonzalez Rogers' Oakland courtroom.
"The court finds that, generally, courts do have jurisdiction to review an agency's inaction, or failure to act, on a permit," Gonzalez Rogers wrote. "However, where, as here, Congress has authorized the secretary to act (or not act) on a specific, discrete circumstance with discretion, that particular act falls within" a provision of the Administrative Procedure Act that precludes jurisdiction.
Even if she had jurisdiction, "plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of the claims nor that the balancing of the equities favors injunctive relief," Gonzalez Rogers wrote.
Environmentalists were elated by the decision. "The court ruling affirms that our national parks will be safe from privatization schemes, and that special places like Drakes Estero will rise above attempts to hijack Americans' wilderness," said Neil Desai, of the National Parks Conservation Association, in a written statement. "Taxpayers can rejoice that the land they bought and own in Point Reyes National Seashore will now be protected as planned after 40 years of waiting."
A lawyer for the oyster farm owners said they weren't yet prepared to comment on the ruling.