Letter to editor and Sarah Rolph’s piece August 26

 

Finds Sarah Rolph’s piece enlightening

 

Editor,

Anyone who thinks the Park Service did the right and legal thing by pushing DBOC out of Drakes Estero should read Sarah Rolph’s Opinion Piece in the August 28th edition of the West Marin Citizen. If ever the facts of this debacle were clearly laid out, it is here in her column.

If you are one of those folks cheering the Park Service on, please read this piece.  It should open your eyes!

Malcolm Ponder, Bolinas

Opinion

An Illegal Taking?
by Sarah Rolph

As most Citizen readers know, a new lawsuit has been filed to prevent the closure of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. The Lunnys are not plaintiffs in the suit, and have no involvement in it. The suit is being brought by a group of businesses and others that would be harmed by the oyster farm’s closure, including Tomales Bay Oyster Company, Saltwater Oyster Depot, Osteria Stellina, Hayes Street Grill, Café Reyes, Alliance for Local Sustainable Agriculture, and Dixon Marine Services, Inc.

An amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief has been written in support of the suit by Phyllis M. Faber, Robin Carpenter, Elizabeth Hill, Andrew R. Olmsted, Laura A. Watt, and Reverend Dr. Robert L. Weldy, Jr. The government defendants have filed a brief opposing the filing of this amicus brief, and Judy Teichman, attorney for the amici, has filed a reply to that opposition. It remains to be seen which documents will become official, but they are all on the record.

Reading through these legal briefs provides a good reminder of why it is a bad decision for the Park Service to seek to remove this oyster farm. That action will harm the community, the environment, and the economy. The Park Service’s own Environmental Impact Statement admits that removal of the farm will result in “long-term major adverse impacts on California’s shellfish market.”

Why is a major adverse impact on the state’s shellfish market considered acceptable? Why is it considered acceptable to eliminate an important source of jobs? Why is it considered acceptable to eliminate an exceptional recreational opportunity for the over 50,000 visitors each year to the DBOC oyster farm? These visitors cherish the opportunity to join with friends and multiple generations of family for a picnic while enjoying fresh oysters from the waters they see and in a setting that has existed for over 80 years. Why is considered acceptable to eliminate the ecosystem services provided by oysters?

How can it be acceptable to eliminate the last oyster cannery in California? The cannery has not only provided a premium shucked-oyster product enjoyed by thousands, but also provides a valuable byproduct in the form of empty oyster shells. These shells are used in efforts to restore native oysters to the San Francisco Bay and to help the survival of the endangered Snowy Plover. Why is it acceptable to eliminate this important aid to conservation efforts?

These losses are themselves major cause for concern. What’s arguably worse is that in its zeal to remove the oyster farm, the Park Service apparently broke the law. The new lawsuit spells out a number of procedural failures that led to the interests of the community not being adequately analyzed or considered in the context of the Interior Secretary’s decision to close the DBOC oyster farm. The decision deprives the citizens of California of their retained rights to lease the waters of the Estero for shellfish production. Since 1934, the State of California has continuously leased the water bottoms of Drakes Estero for the purpose of cultivating shellfish, and shellfish have continuously been cultivated thereon. In 1965, the State of California conveyed the water bottoms of Drakes Estero to the United States but reserved the right to fish, including the right to lease the State water bottoms for aquaculture. The Park Service does not have the authority to negate this right.

The decision violates the National Aquaculture Act, which was enacted to promote and support the development of aquaculture and domestic aquatic food supplies, and to ensure coordination among the various federal agencies that have aquaculture programs and policies and those that have jurisdiction over activities that affect aquaculture.
The decision violates the Coastal Act, which requires that oceanfront land suitable for coastal dependent aquaculture shall be protected for that use, and it goes against the specific policies of the Marin Local Coastal Plan, which confirms the public interest in mariculture as “an important economic activity” in the Coastal Zone.

Several of the topics that illustrate the respects in which the closing of DBOC is inconsistent with the enforceable policies of the California coastal management plan and other interests of the community were raised during scoping or in comments on the Park Service’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement and were subsequently dismissed—on shaky grounds. For example, in response to the concern that replacing the local oysters with imported oysters will enlarge the area’s carbon footprint, the Park Service wrote: “While some who commenters (sic) assert that as a result, oysters would need to be flown in from international areas, no concrete data has been provided to the NPS to support this assertion. . . .”

In response to the concern that the elimination of the historic oyster farm constitutes the destruction of an important cultural resource, the Park Service wrote: “The oyster-growing facilities lie within but do not contribute to the significance of the Point Reyes Ranches Historic District…” In response to concerns about the loss of this important source of local food, the Park Service wrote: “Any change in DBOC’s contribution to the local food supply would likely be negligible.”

These are poor excuses for setting aside these serious concerns. The Park Service does not seem to have seriously considered the impacts of its actions. The process by which Interior is attempting to remove the oyster farm closely resembles an illegal taking. It must be stopped.