Oyster farm challenges eviction from park in court

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - A federal judge on Friday questioned whether she had the authority to decide whether a historic oyster farm can continue operating in Point Reyes National Seashore after it was evicted by park officials.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers heard arguments in a last-ditch effort by the farm, which learned Nov. 29 that the Interior Department was going to allow its 40-year lease to expire. The judge did not set a date for a ruling.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the lease was meant to expire so the land could be returned to wilderness status, and the Interior Department has given the farm until March 15 to remove all of its property from the park.

Gonzalez Rogers asked the farm's attorneys how she had the authority to intervene when Salazar had the legal authority to decide the farm's fate, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

"It seems to me it's much more in the realm of executive, political or legislative functions, as opposed to a judicial function," the judge said. "Where's the role of the federal judiciary on that policy decision?"

Oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny - who bought the business in 2004 knowing the lease was set to expire in 2012 - says in the lawsuit that Salazar did not rely on solid scientific evidence to make his decision.

The farm's supporters, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have pointed to mistakes made in environmental studies that found the operation's motorboats harmed harbor seals and native plants in the pristine Drake's Estero.

The National Academy of Sciences even discredited some of the park service's findings of environmental harm.

Lunny says the farm is crucial to the local economy, and that Point Reyes has a history of working ranches and the oyster operation that have always worked hand-in-hand with the land.

"If this injunction is not granted, our company will be shut down," Lunny said in a statement. "But there is a greater effect hinging on this decision than just the future of our employees; there is a ripple effect on our entire community."