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Oyster Farm In Dispute With National Park Service

Tue, 08/16/2011 - 4:49am
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POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, Calif. (AP) — An oyster farm that's been caught in a longtime dispute with the National Park Service over its expiring lease has gotten a boost from three former California lawmakers who were instrumental in establishing the national park decades ago.

The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has been in a feud for years with park officials, who want to convert the estuary where the farm is located into official wilderness. The 71-year-old farm, the only one of its kind at the Point Reyes National Seashore, produces 40 percent of the state's commercial oysters.

Former Assemblyman William Bagley and former U.S. Reps. John Burton and Pete McCloskey are backing the oyster farm, saying they had no intent to kick it out when they worked to establish the national park in 1965, the Marin Independent Journal reported (http://bit.ly/o0s9j4). The three joined in a letter sent last week to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the Park Service.

Park officials are currently doing a comprehensive review of the farm that's due to be released next month.

In the letter, Bagley, Burton and McCloskey noted that the 1965 law transferred the land to the National Park Service but retained offshore fishing rights, including oyster farming, for the state.

The letter included several documents from the legislative record, such as a 1961 feasibility study of the proposed national park that said "existing commercial oyster beds and an oyster cannery at Drakes Estero ... should continue under national seashore status because of their public values."

"Legislative intent is lasting. It is very difficult to change history if the authors of that history are still alive," Bagley told the Independent Journal. "What was exempted in 1965 is still exempted."

Park officials declined comment on the letter.

But Neal Desai, spokesman for the National Park Conservation Association, said Congress made clear in the 1965 law that the oyster farm's lease was to expire in 2012.

"The legislation provided no exemption for the company," Desai said, adding that there's "strong public support for marine wilderness."

Earlier this year, the Interior Department's Solicitor's Office found that National Park Service scientists made mistakes in assessing the farm's environmental impact. The Interior investigation came after a separate study by the National Academy of Sciences found that Park Service officials exaggerated the operation's negative impact on harbor seals and other native populations.

The final report will be open for public comment when it's released in September, Park Service spokeswoman Melanie Gunn said.

"Once it comes out, there will be a 60-day comment period, with three public meetings, likely in mid-October," Gunn said.

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