Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Polygamous Sect Moves In, And Texas Town Asks 'Why?' - End The Beginning, Part 2

Polygamous Sect Moves In, And Texas Town Asks 'Why?'

Leasing land to hunters is one of the biggest money-making businesses in Schleicher County, and locals know what a hunting lodge looks like. "It's a 20-by-21 room with a simple road, a little log cabin that will fit four or five guys," said Justice of the Peace Jimmy Doyle. "These [buildings] are like college dormitories, three stories tall, with a lot of road work. We knew something was up."

Besides, said Doyle, "we couldn't figure out why, if they have elk and bear in Utah, they're coming to the county to hunt a little white-tailed deer."

Investigator Sam Brower, left, with Sheriff David Doran, serves a summons on FLDS member Merrill Jessop, right, in a civil lawsuit filed against the FLDS. (Kathy Mankin - El Dorado Success)

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By mid-March, with the construction going strong, information began coming in to the sheriff and to the newspaper that Allred and the owner of the property were connected to Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Doran called Allred in for another meeting, and it was then, the sheriff said, that "he said it's not a hunting retreat -- he said it was for church members who wanted to get away" from Utah and Arizona.

Then the region's media arrived in droves, attracted by Flora Jessop, who went to Eldorado to hold a news conference and warn local residents about their fundamentalist neighbors. Jessop, 34, fled the FLDS enclave on the Utah-Arizona border at the age of 18, claiming years of sexual abuse by her father, virtual imprisonment by her uncle and a forced marriage to a cousin. She has since become an anti-polygamist activist and the executive director of the Child Protection Project in Phoenix, which helps girls escape the FLDS.

All summer, the construction at the Eldorado compound has proceeded without pause. There are no county zoning or building codes and the property -- with church members working on it exclusively -- now contains at least four large multi-story dormitories, a church and community center, several storage barns, a rock quarry, a concrete plant, construction trailers, a large cultivated plot for growing crops, and a network of roads. A wastewater treatment plant and a water supply system are being constructed on the compound.

The property is off limits to outsiders and even the only government agency with any jurisdiction over the property, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has had difficulty getting regular access. The agency has cited the FLDS for improperly disposing of wastewater, for emissions problems with the concrete plant and, most recently, for 20 violations with the drinking-water system, said John Steib of the commission's office of compliance and enforcement.

Doran and his deputy have visited the FLDS compounds in Hildale and Colorado City and received briefings from officials there. The Utah attorney general has offered to meet with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who believes the Eldorado community is a "local law enforcement issue," a spokesman said.

"We won't hesitate to enforce the law if any are broken, but there have been no laws broken yet," Doran said.

In the meantime, wary residents are reading their local paper and wondering whether life as they know it in their little town will change. A few of the fundamentalist men have been spotted in town but none of the women, who wear floor-length, pioneer-style dresses and long braids.

"We all know one another, and we're basically close-knit," said Patsy Kellogg, director of the Schleicher County Community Resource Center, which administers local welfare programs. "We don't want anyone to mess up our little world. We're very secure here. . . . I hope they stay on their own ground and they don't register to vote."

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