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ND owes $1.4 million in Heritage Center construction case, judge says

The North Dakota Heritage Center State Museum is seen July 14, 2016, on the Capitol grounds in Bismarck.Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

BISMARCK—A North Dakota judge entered a $1.4 million judgement Wednesday, Dec. 27, in favor of the Wahpeton, N.D., construction firm that led the expansion of the Heritage Center in Bismarck.

And the state of North Dakota is "apparently agreeing" to pay part of that sum, an attorney for Comstock Construction said.

District Judge James Hill's order came more than a month after a Bismarck jury sided with Comstock. They said the State Historical Society breached its contract by failing to pay the balance of the contract and for extra work.

Comstock was the general contractor for the museum's recent $51.7 million, 97,000-square-foot expansion.

The firm sued the state in March 2016, alleging the State Historical Society improperly withheld payment. Comstock also said it was provided inadequate plans to support hefty exterior limestone panels, which caused damages, delays and safety issues.

Hill ordered that Comstock recover $1,395,264 from the state—the amount awarded by the jury — plus $9,667 in costs and disbursements, along with 2.25 percent in post-judgment interest per year.

The jury's verdict broke Comstock's award into two claims: $337,204 for the state's failure to pay the contract balance and $1,058,060 for its failure to pay for extra work. Aaron Dean, an attorney for Comstock, said the state is "apparently agreeing" to pay the $337,204 for the contract balance.

"That's the money they say that's already been legislatively appropriated," he said. Dean said the money had not yet been received, however.

A legislative budget analyst and auditor previously said the State Historical Society had about $386,000 retained to pay the project's final costs.

Peter Zuger, an attorney for the state, declined to comment. He cited state policy against discussing ongoing litigation. State Historical Society Director Claudia Berg didn't return a message seeking comment.

Attorneys for the state floated a request for a new trial in a motion filed this month. Dean said that step is a "precondition" to filing an appeal, but it's unclear whether the state will do so.

The state has 60 days from Wednesday's judgement to file a notice of appeal with the North Dakota Supreme Court.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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