Environmental fines levied against sect's Texas ranch

Associated Press/April 14, 2006
By Jennifer Dobner

Salt Lake City -- A southern Texas ranch owned by a Utah-based fundamentalist religious sect is facing more than $34,000 in fines for environmental violations related to construction on the property.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has filed two separate enforcement actions against YFZ Land LLC, the holding company that owns the 1,691-acre ranch near Eldorado, Texas.

The ranch was purchased in 2003 by David Allred, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Allred also bought land for the church in other locations, including Colorado and South Dakota.

None of the funds for the purchase appears to have come from the United Effort Plan trust, which holds most of the property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., said Bruce Wisan, a court-appointed accountant who oversees the trust.

Church members moved to the remote area along the Utah-Arizona border in the early 1900s in hopes of avoiding prosecution for polygamy, which remains a central tenet of the faith.

The church is led by Warren Jeffs, a recluse who has not been seen publicly for more than a year after Arizona authorities charged him with arranging plural marriages between underage girls and older men. Last week, Jeffs was charged in Utah with two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his alleged role in another arranged marriage involving a teenage girl. Jeffs is considered a fugitive by police and is on the FBI's Most Wanted list.

Neither Allred nor Jeffs responded to a written request for comment on the TCEQ allegations sent by fax to the YFZ Ranch by The Associated Press on Thursday.

At least one set of the allegations appears to be resolved. TCEQ documents show YFZ - which stands for "Yearn for Zion," the title of a song written by Jeffs - has agreed to pay the state $20,373 in penalties for violations that occurred between May 2004 and April 2005, TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson said. Ranch operators also corrected or discontinued the offending practices, TCEQ documents show.

The violations include failing to get permits or approved plans for a sewage system, an injection well, a concrete plant, waste dumping, disposal of used oil and bulk mineral storage.

A TCEQ administrative judge must still approve the agreement and a hearing is set for May 10, Clawson said.

A second set of alleged violations, which include improperly burned solid wastes, unauthorized wastewater discharges and the improper composting of building materials, has yet to be addressed, Clawson said.

TCEQ documents show YFZ could be liable for $14,140 in new fines, plus daily fines of $10,000 if the problems are not corrected. Those violations allegedly occurred between April and August 2005, the documents show.

Clawson could not say whether the violations were discovered during regular state inspections or if TCEQ had received complaints from residents in Schleicher County.

Since purchasing the property, church members have constructed more than a dozen buildings on the ranch, including homes, a commissary and a church temple. Initially, church officials said the land would be developed as a hunting retreat, but later acknowledged the compound was designed as a refuge from authorities in Arizona and Utah.

Scott Sutton, head appraiser for the Schleicher County Appraisal District, said Thursday that the assessed value of the ranch property and buildings in 2005 was more than $7.1 million. Taxes paid on the property that year were $196,414.50, Sutton said.

Eldorado is about 40 miles south of San Angelo.

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