Photo provided
Indiana Transportation Museum grounds, May 2017
Photo provided Indiana Transportation Museum grounds, May 2017

The Noblesville Parks and Recreation Board, with full support of the City of Noblesville administration, has elected not to renew its lease with the Indiana Transportation Museum when it expires on March 1, 2018. The unanimous decision by the Parks Board was made Wednesday.

“The City of Noblesville is taking these proactive measures now to protect our residents and our heritage, to ensure Forest Park is cleaned up and to bring the trains back to our community with a new operator – the Nickel Plate Express,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear.

Upon termination of the Lease Agreement on March 1, 2018, ITM is required to remove all of its equipment and return the premises back to the Parks Board in a clean, sightly, healthful condition, and in good repair.

John McNichols, president, Indiana Transportation Museum, said he’s disappointed, but not surprised.

“The Indiana Transportation Museum first learned of The Noblesville Parks and Recreation Board’s decision by email early (Wednesday) morning. We are profoundly disappointed but not surprised at the latest action by Noblesville to publicly decide not to renew our lease at Forest Park and without consultation with the Museum,” McNichols said, through a statement released by Shank Public Relations Couselors.

Robert Herrington, Noblesville Public Affairs manager, said ITM board members were invited to the parks department meeting, but chose not to attend.

The City anticipates that additional time to fully vacate and repair the premises may be desired, and is willing to discuss further accommodations with ITM leadership.

The notice of non-renewal does not impact ITM’s obligation to investigate and remediate environmental contamination at the property through coordination of IDEM. This obligation is contractually mandated by the terms of the Lease Agreement and the city believes the financial burden should not be passed along to taxpayers.

Since its selection as the new rail operator in July, the city and Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad have had active discussions to ensure the Nickel Plate Express excursion train includes Noblesville in its operations, which are slated to begin in 2018 between Atlanta and Arcadia and could extend south to Noblesville starting in 2019. Forest Park is expected to become a major stop.

“With one rail line, there should be just one operator,” Ditslear said. “The ITM has not shown good stewardship with the resources entrusted to them for more than 50 years. The city is excited to be working with the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad to continue the city’s railroad history and bring the trains back to Forest Park as a safe, clean and fun tourist attraction that connects Noblesville with our neighbors in northern Hamilton County.”

Since the city notified Indiana Department of Environmental Management about potential environmental problems in May, IDEM has conducted three follow-up investigations and the Environmental Protection Agency has completed one. All four have found violations including PCBs and several cars also are believed to contain asbestos, which is currently under further analysis. The ITM also self-inventoried 1,064 items for waste containment and disposal.

“We expect full cooperation from the ITM to ensure a smooth transition as they finalize their clean-up efforts and move their operations outside of Forest Park,” said Scott Noel, Parks Board president.

McNichols disagreed with Noel’s assessment.

“This is another example of the kind of harassment the Indiana Transportation Museum has dealt with for the past several years. We have worked diligently with Noblesville town environmental experts and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and although there were issues not unlike you’d find in a typical manufacturing environment, the issues certainly never reached the levels of concern as characterized by the early WRTV reports or the city and county.” McNichols said.

He also said ITM has options beyond a presence in Noblesville.

“Our name is the Indiana Transportation Museum, not the Noblesville or Hamilton County Transportation Museum and we know we have options for finding a new home where citizens and community leaders appreciate the history, legacy, tourism and economic development that the Indiana Transportation Museum brings,” McNichol said. “In the long term we will be interested in the reactions of Hamilton County voters in future elections.”

For more background information on ITM at Forest Park, including environmental site inspection reports and more, visithttp://bit.ly/2BENfDG.