Settlement agreement protects the West Coast’s first marine wilderness at Drakes Estero
Statement by Amy Trainer, Executive Director, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin
“The settlement agreement is a very generous deal for the oyster company that will have had 25 months to operate rent-free since its lease expired. We are glad that Drakes Estero, a magnificent ecological treasure, is finally on its way to be restored to its wild, natural rhythm, free of non-native and invasive species.”
Statement by Neal Desai, Pacific Region Field Director, National Parks Conservation Association
“Americans have waited decades for the west coast’s first marine wilderness to be protected, and we are excited that nature will soon thrive in the ecological heart of the national park. Though the oyster company’s pollution and damage to the environment will unfortunately continue until the end of the year, Americans will soon have a newly restored marine wilderness to explore and be inspired by.”
Statement by Gordon Bennett, President, Save Our Seashore
“I’m really glad that the battle to protect our Drakes Estero marine wilderness has finally come to a conclusion.”
Background: Today, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Drakes Bay Oyster Company announced a settlement agreement that will dismiss the oyster company’s failed litigation and assign clean-up costs for the mess caused by the company’s non-native oyster cultivation. The settlement agreement follows four consecutive Federal court decisions that upheld DOI’s November 12 decision to let Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s lease expire as long planned, thereby protecting the West Coast’s first marine wilderness at Drakes Estero within Point Reyes National Seashore. The DOI and oyster company agrees that the settlement agreement “is fair, reasonable, and in the public interest.”
Most recently, the Supreme Court of the United States denied hearing the oyster company’s case. As of October 6, 2014, the company has had 22 extra months to plant, harvest, and sell its non-native oysters rent-free, thus profiting far beyond its November 2012 lease expiration.
Highlights of the settlement include:
Providing a date (December 31, 2014) by when Drakes Estero marine wilderness will be free from Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s business operations such as their daily use of noisy motorboats and placement of thousands of plastic oyster growing bags on sensitive wildlife habitat.
Providing Drakes Bay Oyster Company with another 3 months (25 months total since their lease expiration) to continue their business activities that damage and pollute the estuary and surrounding Seashore. Recently taken underwater video footage captures the significant plastic pollution and invasive species infestation from the oyster company’s operation that the company has neglected to clean up for years.
Transferring clean up responsibilities and costs from the oyster company to taxpayers. Per the leasing contracts it originally signed, the oyster company was legally required to clean up the estuary before its lease expired in November 2012, but today’s settlement unfortunately transfers that financial responsibility to all Americans who, through the National Park Service budget, will be forced to pick up the tab. Since it was formed in 2005, Drakes Bay Oyster Company reported annually that its clean-up costs would not exceed $10,000, yet it claimed the costs would be more than 50 times that ($600,000) when it filed a lawsuit against DOI.
Providing the oyster company’s employees with federal relocation assistance and allowing those employees who live on site to continue until at least March 31, 2015.
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