MARIN COUNTY --The owner of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging its decision to shut down his operation.

Kevin Lunny is working with a legal team and with Cause of Action, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan government accountability group.

The suit -- filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco late Monday -- asks the court to declare that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision is null and void.

"We are not going to walk away," Lunny said Tuesday during a conference call with the media. "We have incredible support from the community."

In addition to the lawsuit, Cause of Action's legal team said it would seek an injunction in court later this week. The injunction would seek to allow the oyster farm to continue operating beyond the 90 days it was given by the federal government while the main legal issue is decided.

Primary among the allegations in the suit is that the federal government failed to follow federal National Environmental Policy Act requirements as it prepared an environmental impact statement because it didn't provide the public with a "meaningful opportunity to comment" on it.

It also attacks the science used to show that the oyster operation was environmentally harmful to Drakes Estero -- the 2,200-acre area where the oysters are grown -- and that false information was given by park service employees. The suit also alleges that the due process clause in the U.S. Constitution was violated.


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The suit maintains that Lunny could have been granted a 10-year extension of his lease under federal rules, and that the proper process was not followed leading up to Salazar's decision.

"The federal government seems to value lies over the truth," Lunny said.

Cause of Action is assisting Lunny in his fight.

"We are concerned about arbitrary action that harms free enterprise," said Dan Epstein, the group's executive director. "The federal government used its authority to shut down a small business."

On Thursday, Salazar announced he would allow a 40-year lease -- originally negotiated with the Johnson Oyster Co. in 1972 -- to expire. In 1972 the federal government bought the land from Johnson for $79,200 and provided the lease.

Lunny took over the lease in 2004. Salazar wrote in his decision that Lunny was explicitly informed "no new permit will be issued" after the 2012 expiration date.

Lunny has maintained there is wording that provides for an extension and that a provision under a state Department of Fish and Game agreement could continue the lease until 2029.

"The secretary made his decision after careful consideration of the applicable law and policy," said Blake Androff, Interior Department spokesman. "The department will carefully review the complaint."

Neal Desai, associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association Pacific Region, took issue with the suit, saying the decision to let the lease lapse was legal and made under Salazar's authority.

"Taxpayers bought this property and it was long-planned to be our first marine wilderness on the West Coast," he said. "This lawsuit is clearly an attempt to privatize the estero and rob the public of this great gift secretary Salazar has given all Americans."

Contact Mark Prado via email at mprado@marinij.com; the Associated Press contributed to this report.