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Contractor sues Niagara Falls over Customs House work

NIAGARA FALLS - Resetarits Construction Corp. has sued the City of Niagara Falls over its alleged refusal to pay the company for cost overruns on the Customs House restoration project.

The Buffalo company's suit, filed earlier this month in State Supreme Court, accuses the city of refusing to pay $294,670 in claims arising from the unexpected need to remove extra asbestos and pigeon droppings from the 149-year-old Whirlpool Street building, which is being renovated into an Underground Railroad interpretive center and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office.

A new Amtrak railroad station is to be attached to the Customs House. Earlier this month, the Federal Railway Administration released a $16.5 million grant for that project.

Joseph J. Manna of the Lipsitz Green law firm, representing Resetarits, wrote in an email to The Buffalo News that Resetarits was hired for the Customs House job in July 2010 and started work that fall.

Manna said the company worked through the winter of 2011 to remove the additional asbestos and guano because the city would not give it a time extension to complete the contract.

As a result, additional expenses were incurred, which Resetarits expected the city to pay. Instead, the city sought to penalize the contractor for alleged delays, Manna charged.

He released a letter he wrote Aug. 21 to Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson, urging the city to meet with Resetarits to negotiate a settlement and threatening a lawsuit if the city didn't respond.

The letter said Manna and attorneys for two subcontractors met June 15 with Deputy Corporation Counsel Thomas M. O'Donnell. Manna wrote that O'Donnell promised the city would pay Resetarits for its base contract work but would withhold $7,500 until the company completed a "punch list" of final items the city would prepare. Manna wrote that neither payment nor punch list has been received.

The city did pay Resetarits more than $100,000 this summer, Manna's letter acknowledges, but he accused the city of trying to force Resetarits to pay the subcontractors who performed work under the original contract out of that money.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said over the weekend that on the advice of the city's attorneys, he would not comment.

It's the second piece of current litigation against the city by a contractor on a major project.

Man O' Trees of Buffalo, the contractor on the incomplete reconstruction of Lewiston Road, sued the city Sept. 4 for breach of contract, fraud and defamation, and it also obtained a court order barring the city from hiring another company to finish the work. State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso is expected to decide whether to lift the order in a hearing Wednesday.

The city is countersuing Man O' Trees for $4 million in a breach-of-contract claim arising from the delays in work, which the company says were caused by the discovery of far more radioactive slag in the roadbed than the city acknowledged in the bid documents.