Colorado City -- The director of the land trust that controls most of the homes in the twin polygamous communities of Hildale and Colorado City said Saturday that the trust is working toward turning its Utah properties over to private owners, but challenges still remain on the Arizona side of the state line, he said.
United Effort Plan Special Fiduciary Bruce Wisan announced the names of 22 men and four women who essentially have an uncontested opportunity to purchase Hildale UEP trust homes through a title transfer agreement, assuming full home ownership in the process and independence from the communal organization.
Wisan was speaking in a community information forum at Colorado City’s Mohave Community College during the morning, and a second meeting was planned in the evening at the city’s El Capitan High School.
The purpose of the meetings was to help convince trust land residents of the need to pay the $100-per-month occupancy fees established as “rent,” as well as to discuss the potential for leasing commercial properties that will boost the economy and a lawsuit filed against the trust by former child bride Elissa Wall.
Hildale and Colorado City straddle the Utah-Arizona state line southeast of Hurricane, and for generations, the communities, known collectively as “Short Creek,” have served as a home for a significant polygamous community that has grown and fractured along religious divides over the years.
The UEP trust was organized as a collective management entity for “consecrated” property in the 1940s by members of the Priesthood Work, which was succeeded in time by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
But many of the polygamists who built and developed property and then donated it to the communal trust found themselves disenfranchised when FLDS leaders under the direction of prophet-leader Warren Jeffs exiled them from their homes and families for unspecified religious offenses.
Lawsuits over the trust’s direction led the state to take control of the UEP in 2004 when the FLDS church refused to defend itself in court, creating the possibility that the people filing the lawsuits could win sweeping judgments by default against the trust and its beneficiaries.
The 26 “no-brainer” candidates for private ownership are living in homes they built, Wisan said. The trust will transfer an ownership deed to the named residents at a cost of $6,534 per acre, or 15 cents per square foot.
The occupancy and transfer fees will help the UEP defray debts accumulated during the “36 or 37” lawsuits the trust has been involved in since the state took control of it, Wisan said, but the amount of money coming in is a fraction of what is owed.
“Judge (Denise) Lindberg … has asked me to increase the amount of the occupancy fees. I’ve declined,” Wisan said.
The transfer agreement will eventually extend to other Hildale trust property residents as any potential disputes are settled.
UEP employee Jethrow Barlow noted that some entanglements may arise in situations where a divorce has taken place or where polygamous family members argue over the rights pertaining to their particular roles within the home.
A separate housing committee would preside over such disputes, he said.
Wisan said the Hildale properties have been surveyed by engineers and subdivided plats were recorded with Washington County after the Utah Supreme Court denied Hildale’s appeal of the process in June.
Colorado City has not cooperated with surveying teams, Wisan said, adding that what he calls “pipe fairies” have apparently gone out in the night and put in underground utility improvements, and then covered them back up without anyone being wiser as to where the improvements are.
When an engineer stumbled on maps of the improvements in the Hildale offices, the information suddenly disappeared, Wisan said.
“So we’ve had to go out and relocate every easement,” he said.
Some of those at the Saturday morning meeting were displeased with the trust’s direction,
“I think we should have left the property intact and had the UEP be like it was,” said Colorado City resident Ross Chatwin, an FLDS exile. “I love the concept that we build it together here, we own it together. It’s a safe haven for our children and our posterity without having to be worried about some drug dealer that lives next door.”
Chatwin said as a child he rarely saw anyone drinking or smoking and he didn’t even know what illegal drugs were until after he was married, but alcohol and drug use have become common in the community during the years since.
“Where it failed here is one man (Jeffs) had too much power, and we didn’t have a decent exit strategy,” Chatwin said.
Chatwin said he fears the breakup of the UEP as deeds are transferred to private owners will feed a martyr complex he says FLDS leaders are promoting.
Some of his brothers are still members of the church, he said, and would be better off if they’re allowed to remain in their homes until they “wake up,” even if they don’t pay occupancy fees until then.
“They’re trying to rebuild something that was here umpteen years ago that will never be. Never. That’s gone,” said New Harmony resident Noreen Jessop. “It will never be the old Short Creek that we know. I was born and raised here. (But) it’s a mess.”
Jessop said she was at the meeting to support two of her sons who have taken over ownership of the family’s old Hildale home.
They are trying to salvage it after it suffered years of extensive damages, she said.
Ray Timpson of Colorado City was more optimistic.
“The fact that 26 have (been approved) is amazing. … The progress has taken way too long, but the fact that it’s actually starting to happen and people are getting their deeds I think is wonderful, and I think miraculous.”
Timpson said living and building his own home on trust property during his younger years was initially a wonderful experience.
“But when the property came into the hands of people who hadn’t lived here all their lives and didn’t really understand what we were doing, and wanted to rule over it unrighteously, that’s when the benefits of the trust ended for me,” he said. “I’m very anxious to get my own deed.”
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