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ND State Fair manager happy with judge's ruling in museum dispute

MINOT, N.D.—North Dakota State Fair Association General Manager Renae Korslien said Friday she is happy with a judge's ruling that means the State Fair can order the Pioneer Village Museum removed from the fairgrounds.

Meanwhile, the Ward County Historical Society president said the judge's decision could mean the destruction of historical buildings and artifacts. President Davie Leite said he does not know yet whether the historical society will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Southwest District Court Judge Rhonda Ehlis ruled Thursday, Aug. 2, that the State Fair Association owns the land under the museum and can revoke its permission for most of the buildings in the museum to remain. Ehlis ruled that two of the buildings, the Butler Building and the Ward County Courthouse, can remain under the terms of a 1966 agreement and the State Fair will have to file or continue an eviction action to have those two buildings removed.

"We actually are pleased with the judge's decision and we look forward to working with Ward County Historical Society on a process to begin their transition off the Fairgrounds in a way that best suits both organizations," Korslien said Friday.

Korslien said she would be willing to personally approach community organizations personally and try to help the historical society find help to move the museum.

Leite said Friday that relocating historic buildings is costly, as shown by the hefty price tag when the Home Sweet Home building was relocated in Minot, and the museum has no funding available for building relocation or to purchase land.

"The members of the Ward County Historical Society are disappointed in the findings of the Order for Declaratory Judgement," Leite said in a written statement. "We still believe we have a right to stay here interpreting the history of the residents of Ward County and NW North Dakota. How we are going to proceed is still not decided but the 5,000 plus people coming through our gates during the State Fair and telling us to keep up the good work is certainly an incentive. But to continue, we need more than just encouragement. We certainly don't have the means to move to a new location and some of the historical buildings would be severely damaged if we could move. In order to survive, we will need the financial support of people in the community."

Leite said the members of the historical society will likely discuss their legal options at their September meeting. The two sides have 60 days to appeal the decision.

Ehlis issued her judgment six months after a civil trial that was held in January.

There has been a long-running battle over the museum. The State Fair Association at one point said it wants to construct a convention center on the grounds and build a parking lot or access road on the site where the museum is now located.

The historical society has consistently refused to move and has maintained it has a right to remain under the terms of a 1966 agreement between the the fair association and the Northwest Agricultural Livestock and Fair Association that states "the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fair grounds." Thirteen buildings were moved onto the museum grounds between 1952 and 1994 with the knowledge of the State Fair Association and without any formal objection.

The case ended up in court in 2013 after talks between the two sides broke down and the State Fair Association served the historical society with an eviction notice in December 2013.

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