Man Seeks Compensation for Damage Caused by Bridge Work

Sat February 25, 2006 - Midwest Edition

LA CROSSE, WI (AP) A building owner is seeking damages from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) after he said construction of a bridge 5 ft. away from his building caused structural damage.

Paul Durhman said he reinforced his La Crosse building before the Mississippi River Bridge span was built, but vibrations from the equipment still damaged the foundation.

City inspectors have since condemned the building and ordered it torn down or repaired. Durhman said the state should reimburse him, but his attorney, Gerard O’Flaherty, said the DOT is claiming government immunity.

The Durhmans are battling the DOT before the La Crosse County Condemnation Commission for compensation.

An appeal would mean a jury trial in circuit court.

They are asking for approximately $1.1 million in damages.

Their insurer, Casualty Insurance Co., is seeking reimbursement for some of the $1.2 million it paid the Durhmans for construction-related damages.

Joe Olson, director of the DOT’s southwest region, declined comment, citing the pending legal action.

Durhman and wife Rita used to operate Advanced Fiber Products in the building but the business moved when the Durhmans sold it.

The couple paid Braun Intertec engineering consultants $16,000 in 2001 to study the building and assess potential damage the impending construction might cause.

Braun reported the 1920s building had unreinforced masonry that could be vulnerable to vibrations from drilling.

Following Braun’s suggestion, the Durhmans reinforced the building with braces, tie rods and steel support beams. Still, when construction began, cracks in the building grew larger and walls shifted.

The Durhmans complained to the DOT’s site supervisor, but “when they showed him how much the door had gone out of alignment, he said to adjust the hinges,” O’Flaherty said.

A second engineering firm found the walls were separating from the building in 2004 and said repairs would cost approximately $1.3 million. In December, the city’s Inspection Department ordered the building repaired or demolished.

“The north wall, which is a bearing wall, is unstable, and moving down and out to the north,” Inspection Director Ken Dentice said. “It started moving again recently, which is why I issued the condemnation order.”