New development on the sprawling Texas ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is giving rise to some speculation that polygamous church members could be preparing to abandon the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Recent photographs provided to the Deseret Morning News reveal a massive water tank, new irrigation systems, new housing under construction, newly planted orchards and fields and what appears to be a dairy being built on the FLDS property outside Eldorado, Texas.
"The FLDS out here is definitely growing," said JD Doyle, a local pilot who frequently flies over the FLDS property and takes pictures of its growth. "There's more traffic and more people, and they are gearing up for something massive. You don't put a 280,000-gallon tank out here you're not going to do something."
Doyle estimates that tank alone would provide water for about 2,800 people. He said he has also seen propane tanks stacked up, perhaps for new housing to be built on the YFZ Ranch. The FLDS Church purchased land outside Eldorado in 2004 and began construction, recently building a temple that gleams white against the backdrop of the Texas prairie. YFZ stands for "Yearn for Zion."
"All of this is not for a small community; they're gearing up for something," Doyle said Wednesday, marveling at the speed and the efficiency of the construction. "It's going to be a great little town."
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said he was also keeping tabs on the construction but noted it is hard to tell what is going to happen next.
"All we're doing is basing everything on what they're building," he said, adding that the FLDS leaders he speaks with were not saying anything about the future. "They've never really informed us of their plans, per se, of what they're doing."
The sheriff said it was not against the law to build what is on the YFZ Ranch, but Texas environmental authorities have been dealing with ranch officials over a septic tank issue.
In the polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City, former members of the FLDS Church said they have heard talk of people leaving but not en masse.
"There's lots of talk saying they're going to be driven out of Colorado City like the Mormons were driven out of Nauvoo," said Isaac Wyler, who said many FLDS faithful are blaming the government and a recent push by the court-appointed special fiduciary of the church's United Effort Plan Trust to get them to pay property taxes.
In June 2005, a Utah judge froze the assets of the UEP Trust, which controls homes, buildings and businesses in Hildale and Colorado City. Bruce Wisan was appointed to oversee the trust, and recently an advisory board was added.
On Wednesday, Wisan told the Deseret Morning News he has also heard talk of people leaving the border towns but said there was no way to quantify it.
"It appears to be the general plan of Warren Jeffs to gradually move most of the people out of the community," Wisan said. "I have reason to believe there are other locations that they're either looking at or already have. In my mind, I think that FLDS leadership is somewhat abandoning the community."
Recently, FLDS enclaves have been discovered in Pioche, Nev.; Mancos, Colo.; Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada; and Pringle, S.D.
FLDS Church leader Warren Jeffs remains on the run. He was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List after being charged in Arizona with crimes related to performing child bride marriages. Doran said his deputies have been on the lookout for Jeffs, even asking for identification if they perform any routine traffic stops on vehicles leaving the YFZ Ranch.
The sheriff said he does not believe there will be a mass exodus from Utah and Arizona to Eldorado, Texas.
"I still firmly believe this is going to be a place where your church officials are going to reside, where people are going to flock here from all over the U.S. to do their temple work," he said. "They would need a large number of things in place to support those people."