The mayor of Nephi, his wife and another local resident have filed suit against the federal government.

Robert Steele, Christy K. Steele and J.W. "Jack" Dansie, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C., claiming they are being kept from mining gypsum claims in the 29,000-acre Mount Nebo Wilderness.His mining claim, said Steele, goes back to 1926, which predates by 58 years the wilderness designation. "Christy and I bought the mineral rights Sept. 24, 1973," said Steele.

He bought the mine from U.S. Gypsum. They, in turn, had purchased the mine from Nephi Gypsum. The old Nephi plant used the gypsum to make plaster for homes. Now one of the main uses for the mineral is in the creation of cement.

Steele, in partnership with Tony Peck, Lehi, owns another gypsum mine at the mouth of Salt Creek Canyon just east of Nephi. Dansie, owner of Nephi Sandstone, leased the mine there, and Peck and Steele are paid a royalty per ton for the gypsum mined.

"We are having a hard time holding the grade," said Steele. "It would be an asset to us to open the other mine." He and Dansie filed a plan with the state to mine the Mount Nebo site. However, that mine is now in the wilderness area.

Steele said the government has, in effect, taken his land from him. They have done this, he said, without formal condemnation or without paying compensation.

In 1984, when Congress designated 5,000 acres as wilderness, the gypsum mine was included, said Steele. For a while the Forest Service continued to allow right of way to Steele and Dansie.

In 1990, they applied for a mining permit, but the federal government has made it difficult for them to mine the gypsum. "We had to get a small mining permit. We did. Then we had to get a large mining permit. Then they offered to trade property," said Steele.

Now the road has been closed. Dansie and Steele are locked out of the canyon and are ticketed if they try to reach it, said Steele.

Part of the problem with a trade, said Steele, is that the Forest Service and Dansie and the Steeles cannot reach an agreement on the value of the mine.