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Miner Wins Reprieve to Stay on Land


Billy Joe Bagwell, the last gold miner living on a claim in Angeles National Forest, won a temporary reprieve from a federal order that called for him and his family to move from the public land by Labor Day weekend.

The 45-year-old Bagwell said he was relieved and happy that the effort to move him was delayed last week. But he remains upset that local federal officials will not grant the blasting permit he needs to continue mining.

Bagwell, a fast-talking Alabama native who has represented himself in the lengthy court proceedings, said Tuesday: "How can I operate without a blasting permit? Now I say: 'Please give me blasting permit.' They say: 'No-no-no.' "

Justice Department officials handling the case said they have no comment.

Last Thursday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco granted Bagwell's request for a stay of a District Court decision ordering him off the public land, pending his appeal of that ruling.

For half a dozen years, Bagwell and the U.S. Forest Service have been fighting over his right to remain on the mining claim. Bagwell maintains that federal officials are unduly forcing him to leave his home and claim, which he established 17 years ago.

In April, Judge Stephen V. Wilson in Los Angeles ruled against Bagwell, saying the decorated Vietnam War veteran was running a sham mining operation as a way to live free on a desolate chunk on mountain land 10 miles north of Pasadena. Wilson ordered Bagwell to leave the land, remove all of his mining equipment and restore the premises to a natural state.

Bagwell, his wife, Cynthia, and their two school-age children live in a rough-hewn house along a creek bed by his mining operation. They have been living on welfare, Bagwell says, because federal officials have thwarted his attempts to run a mine.

"I've got no choice but to fight," Bagwell said.

If he does not receive a blasting permit soon, he added, "I guess next week I'm going to have to file more (legal) papers."

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