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Safety violations could land Glorieta camp in hot water

March 1, 2017 GMT

The operators of a 2,400-acre retreat and camp in Glorieta will face thousands of dollars in fines and possible criminal charges if they fail to remedy a number of violations cited in a Santa Fe County inspection, including unapproved development and improper disposal of hazardous waste.

Glorieta 2.0/Glorieta Camps runs outdoor programs for adults and children, including day and overnight camps in the spring and summer, spiritual retreats and mountain bike and running events, with a mission of “Christ-like change through outdoor adventure, authentic relationships, and biblical truth.”

On Feb. 15, staff from the Santa Fe County Growth Management Department and the county fire marshal conducted an inspection of the camp and reported finding unpermitted construction or development, including new zip line structures, lake slides, diving boards, decks, a remodeled coffee shop, new mountain biking trails and a new skeet shooting range. Inspectors also said they found a large parcel of land being used for solid waste disposal without a permit.

Jeff Ward, director of finance and administration for Glorieta Camps, said the facility’s operators have been in communication with Santa Fe County and working with engineers and architects to come into compliance with the county code. He said the zip lines mentioned in the inspection have been certified by the state.

The violations carry fines of $300 to $5,000 each and potential jail sentences of 90 days. If the problems aren’t corrected within 10 to 15 days, the fines continue to accrue for each day of noncompliance.

A letter dated Feb. 22 from the county to Glorieta Camps says some of the violations constitute nuisance violations that “pose a threat to health, life and safety of the community.”

The letter also says, “Failure to immediately cease and desist occupancy and use of the unpermitted structures … will result in criminal charges being filed and may result in a civil action to enjoin the use.”

Ward declined to say why the camp was not in compliance at the time of the inspection.

“We are cooperating with them [county officials], and we think all of this will be resolved in due course,” Ward said.

He said the camp is not using the structures called into question in the letter but is still hosting retreats on the property and does not anticipate the inspection to interfere with spring break or summer camp sessions.

“We exist as a nonprofit to inspire Christ-like change,” he said. “If our guests aren’t safe, we can’t do that. We adhere to the highest industry standards in regards to safety.”

Tessa Jo Mascareñas, a county spokeswoman, said the camp had hired a consultant to resolve the violations.

She said the investigation was initiated following a news media inquiry into “some activities that may be occurring at that location.”

The day camp hosts students from kindergarten to eighth grade for $140 per camper per week in the summer and $400 weekly for overnight campers, according to the website for Glorieta Camps. The website also says, “Safety is taken very seriously at Glorieta. In fact, Glorieta exceeds the annual requirements set by the State of New Mexico.”

The camp, which is about 15 miles southeast of Santa Fe, had formerly been the LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center but was purchased for $1 in 2013 by the Texas nonprofit Glorieta 2.0 from Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources. Several other potential buyers had rejected the low price tag, citing the extensive repairs needed at the facility, which can house up to 2,000 people.

The buyers also run the Camp Eagle Christian camp in Rocksprings, Texas, which the Glorieta camp is largely modeled after.

The land purchased by Glorieta 2.0 also included 60 homes that had been leased by LifeWay. Glorieta 2.0 said it would pay lessees $40,000 to move out or they could sign new 12-year leases, at the end of which their homes would be donated to the nonprofit.

The proposal sparked a $12.4 million lawsuit from one homeowner who challenged the sale of the property by LifeWay. The suit was dismissed by a federal judge.

Ward told The New Mexican on Tuesday that the county inspection was the result of a grudge that has persisted from one of the people — whom he declined to name — associated with the lawsuit.

The county confirmed there had been just one complaint filed regarding the camp.

“There are two people that have made complaints to just about every state agency under the sun,” Ward said. “They have made it clear that their intent is to see our camp shut down.”

Ward said those complaints have led to 13 state inspections since October and resulted in the discovery of a number of issues or “little stuff” the camp is working to resolve, like insufficient eyewash stations.

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or rmoss@sfnewmexican.com.