How about Everything, New Mexico?

The “boot heel” of southwestern New Mexico has seen several cycles of “boom and bust” in the mining industry over the past two centuries. Miners have gathered from all over the world to extract precious gold, silver, and more recently, more mundane metals such as copper. Towns spring up overnight to house the miners, and are abandoned just as fast when the metal runs out or, as is more typical today, the price of the commodity no longer justifies extracting it from the earth.

In 1999, Phelps Dodge Hidalgo, Inc., a wholy-owned subsidiary of the Phelps Dodge Mining Corporation, closed its giant copper smelter in Hidalgo County, New Mexico. Recently, Phelps Dodge announced that it was selling all its holdings in the town of Playas, New Mexico, which essentially means the entire town.

Built between 1974 and 1977 to house workers for the copper smelter, Playas, New Mexico is located along the railroad line between Phelps Dodge’s copper mines in Arizona and its copper rod manufacturing plant in El Paso, Texas. While at its peak the town housed around 1,000 people, it is now inhabited only by the work crew kept on to mothball the smelter. Unless Phelps Dodge can find a buyer with a use for it, the town of Playas is likely to become a 20th Century companion of the old mining ghost towns of Steins and Shakespeare, New Mexico.

For sale are:

  • 1200 acres of land
  • 259 homes
  • six (6) apartment buildings
  • twenty-five (25) one-bedroom, one-bath housing units
  • community center
  • airstrip
  • fitness center
  • post office
  • fire station
  • medical clinic
  • rodeo arena
  • two (2) tennis courts
  • two (2) basketball courts
  • baseball diamonds
  • bowling alley
  • two (2) churches

Hidalgo County was named for Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest who fought for Mexico's independence. Due to its elevation, the area is not scorchingly hot: highs in the 90's (F) are typical in summer, with night time lows in the 20's (F) in January. July through October is the rainy season, with brief afternoon thundershowers typical of what New Mexicans call the “monsoon” weather pattern. The rest of the year there is seldom any precipitation.

The relatively low price reflects the somewhat dilapidated condition of the buildings, and the fact that this is a former smelter site: not pristine environmental conditions. It’s also very remote from anything even close to civilization.

Rene Romo, Albuqeuerque Journal, January 5, 2003 (Front Page), “Playas for Sale” Hidalgo-County/Playas/

Phelps Dodge Environmental Inventory for the Hidalgo Smelter:

Update (July 2003)

It looks like Phelps Dodge is going to sell Playas to a consortium of state universities, including New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico, and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, for use as a realistic setting for disaster training.

The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology ("New Mexico Tech") has had an anti-terrorism assistance program at the university for about five years. New Mexico Tech would use the town as a center for emergency operations training for first responders, as well as advanced training for emergency operations personnel, emergency medical personnel, and private sector responders.

New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has been pushing for this use for the town, and leaning on the federal Homeland Security Department to fund it. As a senior Republican senator and Chairman of the Budget committee, Domenici has the clout to make it happen.

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