‘Gold miner’ leaves mark on county | TheUnion.com

‘Gold miner’ leaves mark on county

The Union editorial board

Even his political foes were shocked when Nevada County Supervisor Drew Bedwell announced Tuesday that he will resign on June 2 because he has Hodgkin’s disease and will be undergoing intensive treatment.

Bedwell has been a pivotal and controversial figure on the county’s political scene for more than three years, a driving force in opposition to an environmental benchmarking project called Natural Heritage 2020 that triggered the ouster of two incumbent supervisors in the November 2002 election.

He was a mechanical engineer from the Bay Area before catching gold fever and moving to Nevada County. His day job is property management, but his passion is searching for gold on a 40-acre claim near Downieville on Tahoe National Forest land.

He first became a property rights activist in opposition to a forest management plan called the Sierra Nevada Framework. Joining groups such as Public Lands for the People and People for the USA, he participated in a Nevada protest in July 2000, removing a barrier on a Forest Service road kept closed to protect endangered trout.

But by that fall he emerged as the strongest voice against NH 2020, forming an organization called Protect Your Property Rights, whose members wore yellow arm bands to supervisor meetings. The movement grew, with his group spawning another, Citizens for Property Rights in Nevada County.

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As conflict in the county mounted, nearly 9,000 signatures were gathered asking that the future of NH 2020 be on the ballot in March 2002. That initiative was turned aside by the Board of Supervisors, but by then Bedwell and others were registering to challenge for the seats of two NH 2020 supporters up for re-election, Elizabeth Martin and Bruce Conklin.

In the March primary, Bedwell outpolled Conklin in District 3 in a three-man race, presaging the November runoff, where a recount declared Bedwell the victor by a 19-vote edge. In District 4, Martin was blown away by NH 2020 foe Robin Sutherland.

Despite moving from the public-comment microphone to a supervisor’s chair, Bedwell has continued to be a gadfly – a public official who seemed to have his own unique passions and causes. His latest crusade – questioning the finances of the popular South Yuba River Citizens League – was an extension of his continuing battle of the pugnacious, lone gold miner vs. those he called the “Pagan Greens.”

That voice of protest now will be stilled, at least for the time being, as Bedwell fights to beat cancer. This being a politically volatile county, no doubt other strong voices will arise. But few will be as influential in such a short amount of time as Drew Bedwell’s.

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