The Daily Chronicle
By Benji Feldheim
Waterman train ride to keep chugging
WATERMAN – The Waterman & Western Railroad attraction is going to keep chugging along.
After six months of debate, the Waterman Village Board came to an agreement Thursday night on a lease with the attraction’s owner, Pete Robinson, to keep the one-third-scale locomotive operating after six months of often heated debate.
Three potential lease drafts were discussed during a special Thursday night village board meeting to settle a dispute that has divided village officials and residents.
Robinson has operated the attraction for 13 years; he became a village trustee 10 years ago.
While many trustees and residents felt the train should stay, the fact that the attraction is owned and operated by a trustee who is charged lower rent to use village property raised possible conflict-of-interest issues.
The new lease agreement raises Robinson’s rent for use of the shelter house in Lions Park from $100 per month – a rate that has not changed in 13 years – to $200 per month from October to December.
Using the shelter house is beneficial because it provides bathroom facilities and concessions for train riders – important amenities that add to the overall experience, Robinson said during the meeting.
To cover electricity costs – another point of contention, since the village has a contract with ComEd for free municipal electricity in public areas – Robinson will pay electric costs specific to the train.
He will not pay for power used in other parts of Lions Park, such as lights that illuminate parts of the park.
After the meeting, both Mayor Clidea Lave and Robinson said they were glad the main negotiations for a lease renewal were coming to an end.
The six-month process was unnecessarily long and stemmed from a desire to have him unseated as a trustee, Robinson said.
“I don’t understand why it took from February until now to get it to happen,” Robinson said. “We got support from everyone except for maybe 10 people. The mayor and the attorney have not allowed this to happen.”
An Illinois statute prevents a village trustee from having direct or indirect interest on a contract with the municipality, Village Attorney Dean M. Frieders said.
The use of free electricity for what is considered a for-profit business – even though it has been acknowledged by trustees and residents that Robinson regularly gives free rides on the train – could possibly hurt the agreement with ComEd, Frieders said.
Robinson and Eric Hanson, his attorney, found it would be beneficial to establish the railroad as a for-profit rather than a nonprofit in case the train does turn forth a net profit, Robinson said Friday. The attraction does not currently make a profit, he added.
But other businesses looking to use the shelter house would pay considerably more than $200 a month, Lave said. The corporate rate for renting the shelter house is $150 per day, Frieders added.
“It has always been the goal to keep the train, but we needed to clarify certain issues,” Lave said. “The possible conflict of interest and electrical use were concerns raised by committee members and other citizens, and these issues never have been addressed. It was not to get rid of the train, but to work through the problems.”
The board of trustees will read and possibly vote on the final version of the lease at the Aug. 14 meeting