Museum Responds to City of Noblesville’s Non-Renewal of Forest Park Site Lease


John McNichols, Chair of the Board of Directors for Indiana Transportation Museum, Inc.


Museum Responds to City of Noblesville’s Non-Renewal of Forest Park Site Lease


NOBLESVILLE, IND. – December 28, 2017 – Board Chair John McNichols has issued the following response to the general public in an itemized outline regarding the recent determination by the City of Noblesville’s Parks and Recreation Board to not renew the Museum’s 52-year-release in March 2018. The false accusations towards the volunteer-run, nonprofit institution, which has been in existence since September 1960, have been addressed line-by-line due to the extent and complexity of the matter.

This announcement comes in light of the Museum’s re-establishment of the annual holiday favorite, Polar Bear Express (sm), in Kokomo and Logansport, IN. Guests have come from across the United States in a record-breaking volume of 14,000 passengers for the 2017 holiday season – accounting for the most successful fundraiser in the history of the institution. These runs have delighted many, including roughly 400 individuals that received rides free of charge through partnership with nonprofits that serve those in need.

Please find the Museum’s response item-by-item listed below:

1.       “The City also procured two separate funding awards from the Indiana Department of Transportation “  The City did not obtain these grants – ITM did.  These grants are ‘reimbursable’ grants, which are funded as work is accomplished and receipts turned in for reimbursement.  ITM did not perform work on some of these grants, due to available volunteer resources and project priorities.  Therefore, ITM did NOT receive any of this funding, and agreed that it should be returned for use by INDOT on other projects.

2.       “In 1998, ITM received a $220,000 loan from the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority and an additional $50,000 loan for operating expenses.”  According to the operating agreement in effect from 1996 to 2006, the HHPA was responsible for all right of way maintenance including track, signals, drainage, etc.  This money was given to ITM to pay for track repairs for which the HHPA was responsible for according to their signed agreement.

3.       “Hamilton County Tourism first began working on railroad improvements with ITM in 2006 and contributed more than $500,000 in lodging tax dollars and other resources on grants and services to help support the organization.”  These funds were used by ITM at Hamilton County Tourism’s direction for marketing consultants, attorneys and advisors to assist ITM in re-structuring the organization to parallel other larger and successful organizations, such as the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, Conner Prairie, and other nonprofits.  ITM accomplished this reorganization, and was working to add additional professionals and community leaders to our board.  At this point, Brenda Myers, CEO of Hamilton County Tourism, abandoned ITM and its journey after this new structure was put in place. 

4.       “When the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority contracted with ITM to serve as the rail operator, ITM was charged with maintaining the rail and was permitted to run its tourism excursion trains as part of the agreement.”  This is an outright lie by city officials.  According the operating agreement signed by HHPA and ITM in 1996, “HHPA would be responsible for right of way maintenance.”  There was NO OTHER AGREEMENT agreed to.  However,  during this time, ITM continued to fund track and right of way maintenance at more than $250,000 per year out of its earned income.  This annual expenditure was often greater than 50% of the organization’s budget and income.  The HHPA received more than $120,000 per year in utility and advertising easements, which they spent on attorneys, consultants and lobbyists.  None of the aforementioned income was spent on the track nor right-of-way.  HHPA failed to negotiate a replacement operating agreement in good faith for 11 years, allowing them to arbitrarily kick ITM off the line without cause or without ANY time to resolve any issues.  This caused ITM’s corporate and philanthropic donors to withhold further investment in the museum until a new agreement was negotiated.

5.       “Despite the city’s best efforts to maintain a cooperative relationship with ITM, issues between the Parks Board and ITM over their unsightly conditions have been ongoing since the 1990s.” After ITM’s reorganization and progress towards its long term goals, city officials such as Mayor Ditslear, Deputy Mayor Steve Cook, City Council President Megan Wiles, City Council member Chris Jensen, and Hamilton County Tourism CEO Brenda Myers IGNORED requests to meet and discuss the issues.  The City officials had already joined forces with City of Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness to “ Work with community leaders to bring an end to the rail line.” – Deputy Mayor Steve Cook FOIA email

6.       General statement:  According to documents and emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, City Officials in Noblesville and Fishers have aggressively sought to disparage and bankrupt ITM in order to put in place their plans. This comes in spite of ITM success and lack of support or contact from the these city officials.  At NO TIME did these officials approach us with their plans to ‘Rip up the rails’ or evict the organization from the park.  Only through press releases and court filings did ITM learn of their actions and intentions.  For instance, Mayor Ditslear cancelled a meeting the day before releasing a press release regarding the alleged ‘toxic spill’ in Forest Park instead of addressing it in person.  These actions have been used to make ITM look like a gross polluter – causing harm to environment and adjacent communities.  IDEM and Noblesville employees have complimented ITM on its efforts so far, and ITM has continued to be actively addressing any issues identified.  (See statement specifically addressing environmental issues below).  This latest move by the City of Noblesville to evict ITM from its home for more than 50 years is consistent with their objectives of destroying a self-sustaining, nonprofit, all volunteer organization to put their own tax-payer-funded alternative in its place.


ELAM Environmental Engineering comments – ELAM has been contracted by ITM to address environmental accusation at the Forest Park site:

  1. ITM’s work has gone unnoticed –
    1. The ITM has been very active in its self-disclosure of environmental conditions to both the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (“IDEM”) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“USEPA”).
    2. By the same token, the ITM has also been very transparent with the City.
    3. IDEM did visit the rail yard and noted violations. Since noting those violations, the ITM has not only reacted aggressively to address the violations, but has also improved its maintenance operations as a result.
    4. The ITM has worked very hard to improve its housekeeping and address the environmental violations. It laid out a strategy to inventory, organize and categorize all of the materials it uses on a daily basis. This amounted to 1,064 products, which is not to be unexpected for a rail yard with 8 major locomotives, several railcars and track. A city maintenance garage would possess a similar number of materials.
    5. Some of the materials were waste products that were no longer used, and have therefore been removed from the facility and properly disposed.
    6. The ITM is following IDEM’s guidance of removing waste and properly managing its usable products going forward.
    7. The ITM is also following IDEM’s guidance on determining if any of the wastes or usable products have resulted in releases to the environment. An investigation in this regard is forthcoming.
    8. The strategy of removing waste and then characterizing if the waste was released to the environment is a recommendation made by IDEM, and is one to which the ITM is undertaking.
    9. The ITM is funding this work on its own without taxpayer dollars.
  2. USEPA –
    1. To our knowledge, the USEPA has not visited the site.
    2. To our knowledge, the USEPA has not found PCBs or asbestos at the site.
  3. PCBs –
    1. The polychlorinated biphenyl (“PCB”) content to which the City referred is actually contained within the paint of the equipment donated by Firestone. This is not considered a release to the environment.
    2. Caulks and paints (like the paint on the Firestone equipment) were commonly used in buildings and schools from the 1950s through the 1970s. There may very well be PCB paint in some of our older schools, government buildings and other public places built before 1978.
    3. Our testing as of this writing does not provide evidence of a PCB release to the environment, but it does confirm the presence of PCBs in the paint.
    4. The ITM has already voluntarily disclosed to the USEPA that it has found evidence of PCB in the paint, and is taking measures to properly abate the paint.
    5. The general public cannot access the Firestone equipment.
  4. Asbestos –
    1. Some rail cars contain asbestos insulation and pipe wrap.
    2. Like PCBs, asbestos is another material commonly used in building materials. Such building materials with asbestos-containing material (“ACM”) include insulation, pipe tapes, adhesives and virtually any 9″x9″ floor tile.
    3. Like PCB paint, ACM is probably contained in many of our older schools, government buildings and other public places as well as residential homes and private businesses.
    4. Asbestos is often left in place.
    5. The ITM has confirmed the presence of ACM in a few railcars.
    6. The general public cannot access these railcars.
  5. The 1,064 items utilized in daily railroad operations –
    1. These items are an inventory of the materials that the ITM uses on a routine basis, not “items for waste containment and disposal” as was reported.
    2. Many of these items are still used.
    3. Some were disposed as waste.
    4. A few more items will be disposed soon.
    5. This inventory has served ITM volunteers well with improved safety and hazard communication protocols, which reinforces the organization’s commitment to adhering towards professional standards across the board.


About the Indiana Transportation Museum

The Indiana Transportation Museum, headquartered in Forest Park, 825 Park Dr., Noblesville, Indiana, is a nonprofit museum and heritage railroad operation founded in 1960. The Museum mission is to engage and inspire generations regarding the rich culture and heritage of America’s and Indiana’s railroads by bringing to life the art, science and technology that defined the industry.

The institution exists as a community-centered partner for the region and Indiana for education, tourism development, economic benefit and preservation of our rich heritage. The Museum sees visitors from across Indiana, the United States and the world.

By |December 29th, 2017|Press|Comments Off on Museum Responds to City of Noblesville’s Non-Renewal of Forest Park Site Lease

About the Author:

Comments are closed.