PASCO -- A Pasco biomass company says it plans to reopen this week and soon hire up to 500 workers despite the financial and legal troubles of the business and its owner.
Michael Spitzauer owns Green Power, which was evicted from its Port of Pasco plant in September, and also was ordered closed by the state Department of Ecology for not obtaining an air quality permit.
The company and Spitzauer face lawsuits totaling more than $18 million in Franklin, Benton and King counties. There also have been numerous claims filed with the Department of Labor and Industries for workers who were paid with checks that bounced and others who went unpaid. Spitzauer has paid some of the claims, but others are headed for collection.
Some of the lawsuits are tax warrants for not paying unemployment insurance contributions to the state and failing to pay industrial insurance taxes.
Green Power sells a technology it claims will turn municipal garbage into diesel fuel. There isn't a plant yet that uses the technology, Spitzauer said Friday, but he added that he has orders and plans to begin constructing systems for buyers around the world.
Last week, the Port of Pasco was waiting to sign a new lease with Green Power. Spitzauer said in a phone interview that he planned to open the plant again this week.
"I will be back on Monday and will put (employment) ads in (the paper) and be preparing everything," he said.
But Elaine Fisher, Department of Labor and Industries spokeswoman, said the company still owes back wages. She offered the following advice for anyone who may takes jobs with a company that has had had trouble making payroll:
"Keep track of hours, and if you don't get paid on payday, file a claim for it," she said. "People should just keep an eye open for what doesn't seem right."
Spitzauer said he didn't think he would have trouble getting his former workers to return.
"People have the choice to work for us or not," he said.
The Department of Ecology is still waiting for information from Green Power to judge if it needs an air quality permit. The agency's Gregory Flibbert said the company hasn't provided enough information about the process used in the plant. That's unusual, he said.
"Usually people who need air quality permits contact us and get them preconstruction," he said.
Green Power also still owes the Ecology Department a $24,000 fine for not having the permit when it was operating.
Although Spitzauer said he was opening Monday, he hadn't signed a lease or paid deposits at the Port of Pasco by late Friday afternoon.
The port isn't taking any chances. Executive Director Jim Toomey said it will take cash only from Spitzauer and will charge an extra month's rent as part of the deposit. Port officials were still waiting for him to bring in proof he has insurance and the rest of the deposit Friday.
"He ain't moving in until the lease is signed and the balance of the deposit is paid," Toomey said.
And Spitzauer isn't just having financial troubles at work. His home on Sunset Meadow Loop in Kennewick, which is owned by Beacon Light, a company for which Spitzauer is listed as the manager on state records, is set for a trustee sale Jan. 28. The home was purchased by the company in 2008 for $1 million.
Two lawsuits in King County contend Green Power kept deposits that investors were told were held in trust accounts. A lawsuit filed in April 2009 contends a $2 million "fully refundable security deposit" was never returned after Chakra Energy Corp. decided not to invest in the company.
"On information and belief, Spitzauer and (attorney Stacey) Cronk have not returned the security deposit because the money has never been held in a restricted account and all or some of the money has been spent by Spitzauer and GPI to fund business and personal expenses and legal fees and repay prior investors in a Ponzi scheme."
The case is set for trial in March.
Exoterm Holding also sued Green Power for not returning $2.2 million when a deal didn't materialize. The lawsuit says Spitzauer agreed to return the deposit but never did.
"In addition, he provided numerous excuses as to why his previous promises to return the deposit had not been fulfilled, including that he was sick, that he sent the deposit to the wrong address, that he was on vacation and that his attorney was being slow."
The state Department of Financial Institutions began investigating Spitzauer's investment dealings after a complaint in 2006, according to spokeswoman Suzanne Sarason. The investigation was closed recently because investigators could not find any victims in Washington.
Spitzauer said Friday that he would take care of all outstanding bills when he gets the company up and running again.
"I guarantee Green Power will be a success," Spitzauer said, "Everyone we owe money to will be paid. Our system will change the world."
* Cathy Kessinger: 582-1535; firstname.lastname@example.org