Dawson will take over for Kinetix, which was faulted for a leak of “forever chemicals.”

The Navy said on Tuesday that it has officially parted ways with a contractor the military blames for spilling firefighting chemicals at Red Hill last year. 

But its replacement has troubles of its own. The no-bid contract was awarded to Dawson, a major federal government and defense contractor, on June 30, just days after its offices were raided by federal agents

Dawson group tax evasion fbi law enforcement raid
Dawson offices were raided by federal law enforcement late last month. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Kinetix previously held the contract to manage maintenance and repairs for Red Hill’s firefighting system. Military investigators say its workers caused a leak of some 1,300 gallons of toxic firefighting foam concentrate in November. 

The company botched the installation of a valve and later failed to turn off pumps that caused the chemical to leak, according to the military investigation

The substance, which contains hazardous “forever chemicals” that don’t degrade in the environment, poured onto and out of the Red Hill tunnel and seeped into the ground. 

Despite the incident, Kinetix continued to work at Red Hill because the Navy couldn’t sever its contract without officially determining the company’s liability, officials said. The Navy hasn’t said whether that determination was ever made. But the company’s contract expired on June 30. 

Kinetix did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Dawson conglomerate receives tens of millions of dollars for government work and donates generously to politicians. 

The nature of the federal investigation involving the company hasn’t been made public. Federal officials, including from the IRS, seized computers and cellphones on June 27, witnesses said. 

Corwin Colbert, a spokesman for the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, said via email that the military approached Dawson about the contract sometime before June 30.

It was awarded without competition under a program that benefits minority-owned businesses, Colbert said. 

In a statement, Steven Li – executive director of Dawson’s parent company, the Hawaiian Native Corporation – confirmed the award and sought to distance his company from the federal investigation. 

“Protecting our wai and aina is important to the DAWSON ohana, and we are honored to have been selected by the U.S. Navy to fulfill the requirements of this contract,” he said. 

“We would like to assure the public that the investigation is not focused on the DAWSON operating companies and does not impact our ability to continue to provide world-class service to any of our existing or future Department of Defense and other federal clients, while we continue to cooperate with the investigation.” 

Li said the search warrant served on June 27 was aimed at obtaining “financial information” and that its offices reopened for business the next day. 

Li did not elaborate on the focus of the investigation or why the feds were interested in Dawson’s financial information.

Wayne Tanaka, executive director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said the military should be more transparent about how the contract was awarded and the terms for both Kinetix and Dawson.  

“This would help us understand if appropriate precautions were taken and contract amendments made in light of the recent incidents, if accountability and transparency mechanisms (or non-disclosure agreements) have been put in place, and if we should be concerned about possible delays in defueling and decommissioning,” he said.

A representative of Joint Task Force Red Hill told Hawaii Public Radio the defueling of the facility, set to begin in October, remains on schedule.

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