Wanted: Manned Security for Damsby John Trumbo
The News Tribune, September 23, 2009
Six hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River system have been without manned security for three weeks since the Army Corps of Engineers terminated a private company it had hired to keep the dams safe.
HWA Inc. of Seattle had been retained to protect McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, Granite and Dworshak dams, but the government canceled that contract Sept. 3 because some security posts were found to be vacant. Those dams are under control of the Corps' Walla Walla District, which doesn't expect to have a replacement company on the job before Oct. 1.
HWA also lost its contract to protect Bonneville, John Day and The Dalles dams on the Columbia River, sources with the Corps Portland District confirmed Tuesday.
While the Walla Walla District dams have had a lapse in manned security -- which forced the Ice Harbor Dam Visitors Center to be closed six weeks early -- Diana Fredlund in the Corps' Portland office said a substitute security company was hired for those three dams the same day HWA was fired.
HWA's owners, J. Thomas Wood and Barbara Wood of Lake Forest Park near Seattle, could not be reached for comment.
A receptionist at the HWA Seattle office said no one but her was in the office all day. And a call to the Woods' home phone was answered by an answering machine that could not accept additional messages because it was full.
HWA also lost its contract to provide security for the Richland federal building, and Security Consultants Group Inc. of Oak Ridge, Tenn., has taken over that contract.
Fredlund said the new security company for the Portland district coordinated with HWA, even hiring some of HWA's employees, to make the security changeover go smoothly.
"(HWA) was terminated because the contract was breached. One guard did not show up on more than one day," Fredlund said. "It was a shame it had to happen."
Gina Baltrush, information officer for the Corps' Walla Walla District, said bids are being accepted through Friday for hiring a replacement security firm, which is to be on the job Oct. 1.
Baltrush said the loss of manned security does not mean the dams are unsecured.
"It just means the dams are locked up. This is how it was after 9/11 for a couple of years," she said.
But HWA's losing the contracts has hurt some of its former employees, said Steve Miller, a Kennewick resident who worked for the company until the Corps canceled the contracts.
"We've heard HWA folded and lost everything," Miller said. He added that things happened so fast there was hardly time for HWA to gather its equipment at the dams, including firearms that had been assigned to employees.
Miller said he isn't worried because he's found another job, though he does regret losing such a prestigious assignment.
Miller said employees suspected HWA was financially troubled when its bank refused to extend a line of credit. He said money had been tight for the company since last year after it underbid a contract to provide security for the Bonneville, John Day and The Dalles dams.
"That sank us," Miller said.
Baltrush said the U.S. Department of Labor has agreed to make up wages for HWA dam security employees who weren't fully compensated by the company.
HWA's website says Wood founded the company as a Washington corporation in 1988, with his wife Barbara as chief financial officer. The site says HWA specializes in security for government agencies, including the National Archives, Army Corps of Engineers, Presidential Libraries, Veterans Administration, Air National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency regional centers.
Just in New York City, HWA's website claims to employ 375 armed and unarmed security officers for 39 federal buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
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