The Indiana Transportation Museum has filed two lawsuits against Hamilton County government officials, including one that alleges Noblesville is planning to evict the museum from Forest Park by June 1 to seize the museum’s equipment.
The museum filed suit in Hamilton Circuit Court against the city of Noblesville and the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, seeking a temporary restraining order to delay eviction from its home at Forest Park, where it has been located since 1960.
Noblesville had given the museum a June 1 deadline to move out after the city chose not to renew its lease with the museum, but transportation museum leaders say that timeline isn’t reasonable. The museum has requested 18 months to two years to allow it to safely move and preserve its equipment.
The museum has a memorandum of understanding to move to Logansport, about 60 miles from Noblesville.
“Despite conversations pointing out the physical difficulties of moving more than 78 historic train cars and engines; several buildings, including the historic Hobbs Station; and more than three miles of track and switches, Noblesville officials demand we vacate the property by June 1, 2018, and after that they will seize any assets left behind,” John McNichols, museum president, said in written comments. “That is the ultimatum we now face.”
A second lawsuit — filed Friday against Noblesville, Fishers and Hamilton County and individual government officials — alleges breach of contract, defamation, slander, restraint of trade and tortious interference for actions the governments took to “destroy and bankrupt” the museum.
The suit seeks unspecified damages.
The lawsuits follow years of fighting between the governments that own the track, the port authority that manages the rail, and the transportation museum.
About two years ago, the port authority ordered the museum to halt its Indiana State Fair train — one of its most popular excursions — from Noblesville to the fairgrounds because the port authority said the tracks were unsafe.
Before the issue could be resolved, Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County leaders announced plans to remove a 9.2-mile section of the rail and turn it into a pedestrian trail.
Then, the port authority ended its longtime agreement with the transportation museum to operate at Forest Park and picked a new operator for the tracks. An agreement with Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad Inc. to operate a tourism rail line from Atlanta to Noblesville was finalized last month.
Last May, the City of Noblesville accused the Indiana Transportation Museum of violating the terms of its lease after discovering leakage of chemicals on the grounds of the museum in Forest Park and called in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to investigate.
About six months later, the Noblesville Parks Board voted against renewing its longtime lease with the transportation museum, saying it had contaminated the site.
Since then, the city of Noblesville has tried to work with Indiana Transportation Museum leaders to negotiate an eviction date, said city spokesman Robert Herrington.
“It’s unfortunate, but it might be best we let a judge decide how to move forward,” Herrington said. “We’ve hit a stalemate.”
The museum’s claim that the city wants to seize its property is “completely false,” Herrington told IBJ.
“We’re not in the train business; we don’t need train parts,” he said.
As for the second lawsuit, Herrington said as of Monday morning, the city had not received it, so he could not comment.