SOCORRO, N.M., May 23, 2003 -- Barring any last-minute hitches in ongoing purchase negotiations, "88009" might soon become one of the most important ZIP codes for the nation's homeland security programs, especially if plans pan out to convert the town of Playas, N.M. into a "real-world" training facility for New Mexico Tech's first-responders and anti-terrorism programs.

The imminent purchase of the Phelps Dodge company town by New Mexico Tech, with funds provided through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was announced yesterday by Senator Pete Domenici, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Negotiations between the copper mining giant and New Mexico Tech are moving forward, and plans also are already underway to begin using Playas as a venue for 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 said.

Playas, which is located in the remote "bootheel" area of southwestern New Mexico, was once a thriving small town with a population of about 1,000 residents, most of whom worked at a nearby copper smelter.

The Phelps Dodge Corporation put the 640-acre company town and its surrounding 1,200 acres up for sale earlier this year with a price tag of $3.2 million, after having shut down its copper-smelting operation in 1999.

The township itself includes 259 homes, six apartment buildings, community and fitness centers, a bowling alley, a medical clinic, a bank, and a U. S. post office, with its own ZIP code of 88009.

"We're delighted that, from among the various offers on the table, Phelps Dodge has chosen to actively pursue negotiations with New Mexico Tech to reach formal agreement toward purchasing the town of Playas," said New Mexico Tech President Daniel H. López.

"Once the purchase is finalized, New Mexico Tech will then look forward to initiating a whole range of research activities and training programs in and around Playas that will directly support homeland security efforts, not only at the state and national levels, but on a global basis as well," López added.

The state-supported research university in Socorro is already an acknowledged leader in research and training programs associated with the nation's fight against terrorism, the New Mexico Tech President pointed out.

"Now, with the possible addition of an entire town to support Tech's anti-terrorism training and research programs, Playas, N.M. also promises to become a well-known venue forborder guards, police, firefighters, and other emergency responders involved in homeland security training," López said.

"The Playas facility will expand New Mexico Tech's capabilities to do both fundamental and applied research in support of homeland security," said Van Romero, vice president for research and economic development at New Mexico Tech.

"In addition, we've already received a number of inquiries from both public and private sectors in regards to possibly working collaboratively with New Mexico Tech on various research programs and other partnerships that would be conducted in Playas," Romero said.