State steps up action on sect

Investigation reveals violations by Mormon group

San Angelo Standard-Times/February 26, 2005
By Paul A. Anthony

A recent investigation by the state's environmental watchdog has found more violations by a polygamous religious sect in Schleicher County, even as it prepares to levy potentially heavy fines for past violations.

Violations found last week by the San Angelo office of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality include many of the same problems discovered by investigators during three investigations in 2004, said Ricky Anderson, the office's district manager.

''It's a combination of the air, water and waste violations that we found'' previously, Anderson said.

In April and July, Anderson's investigative team found numerous violations on the YFZ Ranch, a compound owned and run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Among the violations listed in a 200-page report were collapsed and leaking sewage tanks and illegal trash burning. Fines for each violation could cost as much as $10,000 per day.

The sect will be asked in early March to respond to a petition outlining the violations, said Wendy Cooper, an environmental quality staff attorney in Dallas. Once the petition is filed, the group either can settle with the state agency or contest the findings in a hearing.

If the group does not respond, she said, the agency will issue a default order and pursue legal action.

''Eventually, an order will be issued by the commission,'' Cooper said.

Some of the violations stemmed from trying to ''figure out the regulatory system'' in Texas, Rod Parker, the sect's Utah-based attorney who also serves as its spokesman, said in July. Parker has since severed ties with the reclusive group, which now has no known spokesman.

Anderson declined to comment on what violations investigators found when they visited the 1,690-acre ranch last week, except to say some were problems that had gone unchanged from the July report.

The FLDS had asked the city of Eldorado, about 40 miles south of San Angelo, to accept its wastewater until it could build a treatment plant. Its permit for the plant has been opposed by state Rep. Scott Campbell, R-San Angelo, and the Upper Colorado River Authority because of plans to dump the waste into a tributary of the South Concho River.

The UCRA agreed at its monthly meeting Tuesday to hire an attorney to represent its position to the TCEQ.

The FLDS has attracted widespread attention for its practice of polygamy and for a pair of civil lawsuits against its reclusive leader, Warren Jeffs.

The YFZ Ranch has experienced rapid growth in recent months, including the construction of what appears to be a large temple. Speculation has increased that Jeffs could be living at the compound and may move his operations there from a pair of towns on the Utah-Arizona border.

The group's application is for a treatment plant large enough to accommodate 1,000 people, said Stephen Brown, management consultant for the UCRA.

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