FLDS puts up gate across Farmer Rd.

NBC News/June 21, 2016

By Richie Duchon

Custer County was set to take action to tear down a locked gate constructed on Farmer Road at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) compound in southwest Custer County, but no such action was needed after FLDS members apparently took the gate down voluntarily.

The Custer County Commission discussed the issue at its July 6 meeting, after Jim Farmer, who owns land in the area, including a rental property at the end of Farmer Road, notified the commission of the gate. Farmer Road runs through the middle of the FLDS land and dead ends at Farmer’s rental. Farmer Road is a dedicated public right of way, meaning it is a public road and gates are not allowed to be constructed on it.

Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler said the gate was located on the north end of the FLDS property, just past the guard tower. The county had drafted a letter telling the FLDS members they had seven days to remove the gate or county highway staff would take it down. Wheeler said because FLDS members had broken off communication with him in the wake of his helping former compound leader Seth Jeffs be placed under arrest by federal authorities for food stamp fraud, he would have to personally serve the letter at the compound. That proved unnecessary later in the day when Wheeler traveled to the compound and found the gate had already been removed.

When compound members initially constructed the gate they kept it shut and locked and offered Farmer a set of keys.

“That wasn’t going to fly,” Wheeler said.

FLDS members were told to keep the gates open and unlocked, which they complied with, but, ultimately, the gate is not allowed. Farmer indicated to the commission he felt the gate’s presence would hurt his renting his property.

The commission continued its discussion of a carport with Wheeler in an attempt to get the sheriff’s department vehicles a place to avoid hail storms. The department had between $12,000 and $14,000 in claims a year ago because of hail, Wheeler said.

Custer County Sheriff’s deputy Heath Lowry told the commission the department had drawings for a carport near the communications tower on the southern end of the courthouse parking lot. The carport, a pole barn-like structure, would house up to eight vehicles at a parking space loss of three stalls.

Lowry said the 82 x 22 carport wouldn’t affect any part of the parking lot other than where sheriff’s department vehicles are already parked, wouldn’t affect drainage, could be color coordinated to match the courthouse and could even be enclosed in the future if the commission opted to do so. Lowry said there was no cost estimate for the structure, as the sheriff’s department wanted to get the commission’s feeling on the issue before going further with the plan. He said the carport could likely be up within 90 days.

Commissioners seemed lukewarm to the idea of putting the carport in the courthouse parking lot, again reiterating their belief it belongs on the county lot just southwest of the courthouse. County planning director Rex Harris said if a pole barn was put up in the lot, it would need flooding vents were it to be enclosed, since the lot is in the floodplain. County maintenance supervisor Jim Lyndoe said the commission needed to consider snow removal when considering whether or not to put the carport in the courthouse parking lot. The lot is designed to push the snow to the area the carport would sit on, he said.

Commission chairman Phil Lampert said he favored putting the carport in the lot across the street, saying putting it in the courthouse parking lot was a potential eyesore. Harris said a quote on a 32 x 120 structure is already being sought for the lot across the street. The commission eventually decided to seek bids for both locations to best determine where to put the carport.

In other news from the -July 6 meeting, the commission:

• Heard from Wheeler that the sheriff’s department is stripping down another vehicle in its fleet that can be passed down for use by other county offices. However, since three vehicles have been decommissioned, the sheriff’s department is falling behind on the fleet replacement plan it started a few years ago. Because of that, Wheeler said he would like to buy a 2015 Dodge Durango this year and remove it from next year’s budget.

The Durango is already set up for law enforcement use, meaning it could be up and running in no time, and the use of some old equipment would help keep costs down. Because the issue wasn’t formally on the agenda, no action was taken on the request.

• Listened to a business credit card presentation from First Interstate Bank. The county currently has its credit cards through Sentinel Federal Credit Union.

• Revisited a past discussion as to whether or not Granite Valley Road should be on the county’s schedule of roads it maintains. The county maintained it at one time but stopped doing so after it was found it was not a  county road. That was discovered after an incident in which a resident of the road berated a highway department worker maintaining the road.

When the land was subdivided in the late 1970s, both Granite Heights Road and Granite Valley Road were created and were to be put on the county road system, but for whatever reason, Granite Valley Road never was. County highway superintendent Gary Woodford speculated that is because from the time it was approved in 1978 until 1996 there was no home built on the road, which meant for 16 years it didn’t require maintenance.

Commissioner Mark Hartman felt it shouldn’t be maintained because it is in a subdivision, which the county doesn’t maintain. County attorney Tracy Kelley agreed.

“It’s really a driveway to two residences,” she said, adding state law says county funds should not be appropriated to take care of such roads.

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