Written by Jen Finn
POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, Calif. — Seen from a nearby hilltop, the Drakes Bay Oyster Company is a cluster of shacks with faded white walls. One patched roof appears at risk of being blown away by the next Pacific squall. A dozen workers on a small weather-beaten dock were busy handling a batch of oysters harvested on a recent morning, separating the mollusks on a single rusty conveyor belt.
But this modest, family-run business just north of San Francisco lies at the center of an increasingly convoluted battle pitting longtime allies against one another and uniting traditional foes. Its fate — whether Drakes Bay will be allowed to remain on public land here or forced to close, as demanded by the federal government — has drawn the attention of a little-known, well-financed watchdog group in Washington, a United States senator from Louisiana, Tea Party supporters, environmentalists, sustainable-food proponents and celebrity chefs.
Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, decided against extending the oyster farm's lease in November, and gave the Lunnys, the owners, 90 days to shut down. The Lunnys and their supporters sued, eventually winning a reprieve from a federal appeals court to continue operating until mid-May; the court is expected to decide then whether the lawsuit can move forward.
With the deadline looming, the battle has only intensified. On Friday, Representative Doc Hastings, a Washington State Republican who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, addressed a letter to Mr. Salazar requesting documents related to his decision and questioning its basis. A couple of weeks earlier, Alice Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and the pioneer of the locavore movement, led a food group in filing an amicus brief urging the court to allow the farm to stay in business.
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