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Just as it appeared that a recent one-two punch from a state regulatory agency threatened to knock out the lights for good, one of Los Alamos’ most iconic gathering spots appears to be shaking it off for a comeback.
The Sheriff’s Posse Lodge received some good news in the last few weeks when lodge officials learned it will be possible to meet a key requirement officials with the NM Environment Department had been asking of the lodge if it wants to stay open.
The Lodge’s problems began about two months ago when its septic system malfunctioned — while a department official was on the premises inspecting the kitchen. When lodge members tried to fix the system, they found they had very little soil available to create a proper drainage field, something the septic tank needs in order to function property. Everywhere they dug just hit rock. Research indicated that the alternatives were expensive ones; alternatives the lodge, which is primarily supported by hosting charity functions, just didn’t have the funds to accomplish. A hookup to the county’s sewer system would have cost over $200,000, according to Carey Grzadzinski, a former president of the lodge.
Recently, however, luck began to take a turn for the better, according to Grzadzinski. After digging around on the property, they finally found a new place for the septic system and the drainage field at a location in the front of the property.
“When they backfilled this area for the building, they put a lot of dirt up here,” Grzadzinski said. “So, we’re going to have our allotted four feet of dirt underneath, something we couldn’t have in the back.”
The lodge is currently waiting for a state inspection of the new system. In the meantime, the old system will remain hooked up, Grzadzinski said.
The other big issue for continued operations at the lodge is a commercial kitchen license, and Grzadzinski said they are still waiting on that. Grzadzinski said that when they’re finished with the septic tank, lodge officials will be taking on the kitchen area next.
Two months ago, the state put them on notice that they are willing to work with the Posse Lodge in order to modify the lodge kitchen and upgrade it into a commercial kitchen if they are going to have other organizations use it.
Robert Italiano, the environmental health manager for the state, District II, said as much in an email to Mark Bayless, the president of the Los Alamos Stable Owners Association, a group that uses the lodge frequently.
Bayless shared the letter with the group.
“The Los Alamos Sheriff’s Posse Lodge is not in jeopardy of losing the ability to host the monthly Cowboy Breakfast, or any other charitable fundraisers. We will continue to issue temporary food permits for the pancake breakfasts and for the several dances which are presented each year,” Italiano said in the letter. Italiano added that they are also willing to work with the lodge to become a fully licensed food server.
“The requirement to become a fully-permitted commercial restaurant was discussed with our inspector, Michael Bencomo, in the context of allowing other entities to use the kitchen. If this is the direction that the Sheriff’s Posse Lodge wishes to take in the future, then we will need to work with them to secure a full food service permit. This may be beneficial to the Lodge as a means of raising additional funds, but they will need to determine that with input from Michael.”
One of the requirements the lodge had to meet was the installation of an exhaust hood, a grease trap and special, bacteria-resistant surfaces for the walls. Two of those items, the walls and the hood, would have taken the lodge off the state’s registrar of historic places, since they would have involved changes to the building’s original structure.
Grzadzinski thinks they’ve found a way to satisfy everyone. Grzadzinski said they may have found an exhaust hood that’s going to fit into an existing hole and they are going to tack special paneling over the lodge’s log structure in the kitchen area.
Lodge officials also plan on working with the state to see if they can get some requirements waived, since they, and the other organizations that use the kitchen, don’t use it all that much, Grzadzinski said. Until that happens, though, the kitchen can only be used by the Posse Lodge organization itself.
No matter what happens with the kitchen, Grzadzinski said they never would have made it this far if it wasn’t for the community helping out. When the news broke that they were in financial straits, the lodge set up a community fund where donations just poured in.
“The community was just fantastic,” Grzadzinski said. “Just this week we received a check for $3,000 from the Jemez Mountains Trail Runs organization. “That got us to the minimum amount to finish the septic tank project.”
Grzadzinski also thanked everyone who helped out, whether it was the Rotary Club giving $1,000 to the cause or just individuals giving what they could.
“Every place we went, people were dropping $20, $50 in the box and we made it, the community came through for us,” he said. He added that because of that, the lodge has started to make a comeback.
“Last month, we were able to give a $1,100 check to the Los Alamos Cancer Society. That’s what we do,” Grzadzinski said. “And that’s why other organizations use our lodge too; because through us it’s easy to raise a $1,000 in just four hours. It’s hard to do that just selling magazines and candy bars.”