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Domenici Welcomes Initial Agreement for New Mexico Tech to Buy Hildago County Town

Phelps Dodge Decision on Playas Could Aid Homeland Security Training

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 21, 2003 -- U.S. Senator Pete Domenici today welcomed news that the Phelps Dodge Corp. will move forward with plans to allow New Mexico Tech, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to purchase the town of Playas.

Domenici, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, was today notified that the copper mining giant will begin negotiations with the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and its partners, on the purchase of the company-planned community that was put up for sale late last year.

“I am pleased with this decision, and for negotiations to move forward. I believe selling the property to New Mexico Tech will have a variety of benefits. It should bring new activity to the town and it will give the nation an excellent venue for honing homeland security training,” Domenici said. “I commend New Mexico Tech for being aggressive and forward-thinking in working out a plan for using Playas and all its attributes to advance homeland security.”

Domenici has been encouraging the federal government -- primarily the Homeland Security Department -- to purchase the Hidalgo County town and use it for first responder training and bio-security research. New Mexico Tech has developed a collaborative effort to establish, support and operate a National Emergency Response Training, Research and Development Center (NERTRDC) at Playas.

New Mexico Tech, with New Mexico State University as a partner, has proposed using existing federal FY2003 funds to purchase and renovate Playas facilities. Domenici has also formally requested additional FY2004 DHS appropriated funding to support the purchase and development of the NERTRDC.

The proposed Playas center would provide standardized emergency operations training for First Responders, as well as advanced training capabilities for emergency operations personnel, emergency medical personnel, and private sector responders. In addition, the proposal would incorporate research on biological security related to American agricultural and natural resource assets.

In April, Domenici asked DHS Secretary Tom Ridge to allow New Mexico Tech to use FY2003 appropriations to purchase and begin developing Playas.

The town of Playas, located in Hidalgo County, was developed in the late 1970s by the Phelps Dodge Mining Company to provide housing and services for approximately 1,000 workers employed at its nearby copper smelting operation. The town has been almost empty since the Phelps Dodge copper smelting operations were temporarily suspended in 1999. The community includes 259 homes, 25 apartment units, a community center, bank, gas station, post office, fire station, medical center, and recreational facilities.