Playas, New Mexico

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Playas was a small unincorporated town in Hidalgo County, the "bootheel" of the southwestern part of the U.S. state of New Mexico.

Playas town center, February 24, 2005
A training exercise at the Playas Training and Research Center in April 2010

It is a former company town, named after a nearby former settlement along the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was developed by the Phelps Dodge Corporation in the 1970s for several hundred employees of its then-new Playas Copper Smelter, located ten miles south of the development. Over 250 rental homes, six apartment buildings, a bowling alley ("Copper Pins"), a bar (the "Feelgood Lounge"), grill, a rodeo ring, a helicopter pad, a fitness center, a shooting range and a swimming pool were built for the community, which even has its own zip code (88009). At its peak, the town had about 1000 residents.

Declining copper prices led to the smelter's closure in 1999; all of its residents were evicted within a year, though a skeleton crew of about a dozen employees remained in the area. The smelter, about 40 miles (60 km) north of the border with Mexico, was nicknamed La Estrella del Norte by illegal migrants using its lights as a beacon for crossing into the country. The smelter was destroyed due to uranium and arsenic contamination. The site is now covered in a 6 foot layer of protective soil, fenced off from wildlife & people, guarded by personnel from the Playas training center.

Four years later, New Mexico Tech agreed to purchase the town and the surrounding 1200 acres (4.9 km²) for $5 million, using Department of Homeland Security funds secured by Pete Domenici. The town is now a training and research facility for the university’s first responders and counter-terrorism programs, supported by tens of millions of dollars in federal funds. For a while, many of the vacant houses were being used by the US military forces that are assisting the US Border Patrol in the area; however, now they are being housed elsewhere.

The region, the smelter and the new facility are pivotal features in Michael McGarrity's Kevin Kerney novel Nothing But Trouble (2005).

External links[edit]

Pete Domenici press releases[edit]

Coordinates: 31°55′00″N 108°32′01″W / 31.91667°N 108.53361°W / 31.91667; -108.53361