A not-for-profit group is taking legal action against Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County, saying officials violated Indiana’s Open Door law when making decisions regarding the future of the Nickel Plate Railroad corridor.
Save the Nickel Plate Inc., which said it would file a suit on Thursday, was founded last year with the goal of preserving the Nickel Plate Railroad line as a transportation corridor after Hamilton County leaders announced plans to railbank the 37.5-mile corridor through Fishers and Noblesville to build a pedestrian trail.
Last month, Save the Nickel Plate leaders brought their fight to state lawmakers, and now, they're filing a lawsuit in Hamilton County against the Fishers Board of Public Works and Safety, Noblesville Board of Public Works and Safety, and the Hamilton County Commissioners.
Their lawsuit accuses the boards of violated Indiana’s Open Door public-access law during meetings held last summer and as recently as this week.
Supporters of Save the Train gathered Thursday morning at the Statehouse, where the organization announced its lawsuit.
Save the Nickel Plate said the government boards first violated Indiana’s Open Door Law on July 31, 2017, during an joint meeting to approve resolutions to railbank the railroad. The notices posted for the meeting did not state what resolutions would be discussed or that residents affected or interested in the project would be able to speak, the lawsuit states.
And, earlier this week, the Fishers Board of Public Works and Safety approved two contracts with firms that will draft plans for the pedestrian trail from 96th Street to 146th Street through Fishers.
Fishers will pay Columbus, Ohio-based architecture company NBBJ up to $163,000, including $17,000 for expenses such as travel, to handle architecture and design, and Indianapolis-based EX2 Partners will be paid $112,000 to handle strategic consulting, including branding and communication with the public.
During the meeting, the board did not allow residents affected by or interested in the decision to speak, the lawsuit states. The board’s chairman denied a member of the public’s request to speak, the plaintiff said.
Save the Nickel Plate has asked a judge to rule the boards violated the law and to void any decisions made during those meetings.
The plaintiff also asks to be awarded attorneys’ fees, court costs and other litigation expenses.
Terry Tolliver, the attorney representing Save the Nickel Plate, said state law requires meeting notices to state the date of a public meeting and identify any resolutions that will be considered.
Tolliver, of counsel with Indianapolis law firm Brattain Minnix Garcia, said public officials must allow residents to speak at those hearings when they authorize changes to a public-way crossings, railways, right-of-ways and public places.
Logan Day, spokesperson for Save the Nickle Plate, said residents should be the voice for the future of the railway, not the elected leaders.
“We’re not hear to argue the value of trails today but rather the importance of good government,” he said. “Government is the servant of their people, not their masters.”
In a statement to IBJ, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said trail opponents are on the wrong track with their legal tactics.
“Once again, this is another desperate attempt by Logan Day and the train advocates to file another frivolous lawsuit grounded in false accusations and uninformed Public Access laws," Fadness said. "We remain undeterred at bringing a world-class amenity via the Nickel Plate Trail to our community. We will quickly seek dismissal of this frivolous lawsuit.”
In an email, Noblesville Communications manager Robert Herrington said Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad Inc.'s plan to to operate a tourism rail line from Atlanta to Noblesville made more sense for the corridor.
“We believe Noblesville’s efforts to preserve the rail corridor going north have already saved the train, and we look forward to welcoming the new Nickel Plate Express to Noblesville in 2019," he said. "As for the tracks going south, we still believe the proposed Nickel Plate Trail is a better use of this section of the Nickel Plate corridor.”