By Lawrence Hurley
(Reuters) - In a high-profile case that split the environmental community, an appeals court on Tuesday ruled against a California oyster farm that challenged a U.S. Interior Department decision to end its 40-year lease on public land.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a 2-1 vote that the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, located on the Point Reyes National Seashore, did not have grounds to seek an injunction that would have prevented its lease from expiring.
The case drew national attention because it pitted environmentalists who wanted to create a marine wilderness and who supported the federal government against those who saw the oyster farm as striking the ideal balance between using and preserving nature.
Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a decision in November 2012 saying the lease should not be extended, meaning the shoreline could become a federal wilderness area.
The family-owned company sued Salazar in December 2012, saying he based his decision to close down the operation on a faulty environmental impact statement.
The court held on Tuesday that the farm was "not likely" to prove that Salazar violated federal law if the case went forward, meaning there were no grounds for an injunction.
"Drakes Bay's disagreement with the value judgments made by the secretary is not a legitimate basis on which to set aside the decision," wrote Judge Margaret McKeown.
A spokesman for the farm said the owners "strongly disagree" with the ruling. The U.S. Justice Department, which represented the Interior Department in the litigation, declined to comment.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)