Buildings go up at YFZ Ranch; complaints filed to TCEQ

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/December 27, 2011

Schleicher County -- A concrete cylinder rises from the polygamist sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch. The construction project is open at the top, where rebar protrudes, and at the bottom are edges that resemble fins on a rocket ship.

Elsewhere on the ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an immense building with a semicircle for a floor plan is being built, its walls dwarfing the trucks bringing the supplies to build it. The area of the building is comparable to the temple.

The ranch has been busy, even with the leader of the sect, Warren Jeffs, 56, in prison for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl. He is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years.

The purpose of the buildings isn't known. Phone calls to the ranch have gone unanswered.

The only regular outside presence that has visited the ranch lately has been that of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has responded to complaints submitted by Schleicher County neighbors.

The TCEQ has received frequent requests to investigate construction matters at the ranch since building began there in 2004.

Agents have found problems such as air quality violations related to cement production at the ranch.

TCEQ documents reveal long checklists of allegations against the FLDS ranch, including alleged violations such as not properly maintaining logs for water quality, having holes in fences around water storage ponds and having oil leaking on the ground from barrels.

The ranch has a host of facilities subject to TCEQ standards, including a rock quarry, cement plant, water treatment facility and a dairy.

The ranch has paid about $39,000 in violations to the TCEQ through administrative orders. An administrative order still outstanding from the TCEQ cites more violations, also concerning alleged opened gates and faulty record keeping. The pending order recommends a fine of $30,782.

Records indicate the FLDS didn't take it lightly when TCEQ agents came onto the ranch.

"The request to enter the temple site became a source of tension during the investigation," one report stated. The investigators didn't press to go to the temple.

One document entered among thousands of TCEQ documents listed a set of "Conditions and requirements to come on our sacred sites."

These requirements included faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, repentance of sins, baptism, the laying on of hands to bestow the Holy Spirit and living in obedience through FLDS revelations. In short, "The Lord must name you by revelation as worthy through obedience to come on His sacred sites."

The FLDS didn't threaten use of force, choosing to leave judgment to God, the document stated.

"Those people who seek to desecrate the Lord's sacred places, by not qualifying through the above named requirements, the Lord will handle them in His time and way," the document stated.

Meanwhile, other FLDS communities have been undergoing austerity measures — being told to forsake toys, pets and recreational vehicles and to give thousands more each month to the church.

Private investigator Sam Brower and FLDS member Willie Jessop, who once served as an FLDS spokesperson but is no longer loyal to Jeffs, believe the money may be going to the YFZ Ranch and to other favored FLDS locations around the country.

Some FLDS communities, such as the small group in Mancos County, Colo., show little sign of activity.

"We haven't seen anything going on. As of January, we haven't had one single complaint," Mancos County Sheriff Dennis Sprueller said. "Couldn't tell if anyone lives out there."

Meanwhile, in Custer County, S.D., "They're still building," Sheriff Rick Wheeler said of a "Place of Refuge," as FLDS outposts are called, in his county.

There has been so much development, most of it agricultural, that the residents are beginning to improve the road that goes to their land, he said.

The South Dakota compound is mostly a private one, Wheeler said.

"It's kind of a lockdown facility," he said. "They just stay inside and build. I would say in the last six, seven years it has probably doubled. I don't know what their plans are."

He does get to go inside and take pictures on occasion, he said.

"I have been in there for several reasons, when our planning department needs to inspect buildings, for meetings with the FLDS, also I have been in there several time with the state on state issues like water air quality etc.," Wheeler said in an email. "It's not easy to obtain access to the property."

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