May 15, 2004
New Mexico Tech Buying Town of Playas for Anti-Terror Training
The Associated Press
SOCORRO New Mexico Tech's regents have approved a purchase agreement that will let the research university move ahead to buy the one-time mining town of Playas as an anti-terrorism academy.
The regents were told before their vote Friday that federal funding for the $5 million price is expected to be approved as early as next week through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The school and copper giant Phelps Dodge Corp., the town's current owner, signed off earlier this year on a real estate deal that will turn the town in the Bootheel of southwestern New Mexico into a training and research center for Tech's growing Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program and other national domestic preparedness programs.
Negotiations between the company and the university have been going on for more than a year.
The purchase is subject to approval by state agencies, including the state Board of Finance and the Commission on Higher Education.
The Hidalgo County community of Playas once had a population of about 1,000. But Phelps Dodge closed its nearby copper smelting operations in 1999 and most of the workers moved.
The mining company put the 640-acre desert town up for sale about December 2002.
It includes 259 company-owned houses, an apartment complex, a community center, a bank, a clinic, a public library and a bowling alley.
New Mexico Tech runs a number of anti-terrorism training programs around Socorro, and school President Daniel Lopez assured the regents that buying Playas does not mean anything will be taken away from the main campus.
"The infrastructure support for Playas will remain largely in Socorro and that will actually create more economic activity in Socorro as well as Hidalgo County," he said.
Van Romero, Tech's vice president of research and economic development, said there's no intention with the new training center to deplete programs at the Socorro campus.
"Rather, the purchase of Playas is intended to accommodate the expansion of research and training program at New Mexico Tech," Romero said.
Last August, officials touting the anti-terrorism academy said it could revitalize Playas and complement the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia by serving as a next step for those who completed FLETC training. Officials said they expected it to bring 200 to 300 jobs back to Playas.
The center would focus on advanced training for first responders, ways to protect pipelines and transportation systems, methods for preventing suicide bombings and training for local government officials. It also would have programs to recognize and prevent agroterrorism and the spread of plant and animal diseases.