Andrea DeMeer                                VTS president and mayoral hopeful Leona Guerster said she hopes the case can be settled out of court.

Andrea DeMeer VTS president and mayoral hopeful Leona Guerster said she hopes the case can be settled out of court.

Town of Princeton still accused of train robbery

The discussion about who owns Princeton’s historic caboose may be getting back on track.

That’s according to Leona Guerster, president of the Vermilion Trails Society, who told the Spotlight the group is adjusting its claim against the municipality and wants to negotiate.

The VTS met last week.

“We discussed it at the meeting. We are willing to go back to the table and continue talks with the town if the town is agreeable to that,” she said. “I am waiting to hear back from [the town’s ]lawyer.

In May 2016 the Town of Princeton moved the caboose from its home along the KVR, at the intersection of Bridge Street and Highway 3, to its present location behind Subway.

A year later the VTS accused the council of train robbery, complained to the RCMP and then filed a $35,000 lawsuit against the municipality.

At the time both the town and the VTS said they could prove ownership of the artifact which has been located at various places in Princeton over the years including at the fairgrounds, downtown and at the museum.

Last summer the municipality advertised for a partner who would consider staging a tourist-related business in the caboose at its current location, without success.

Princeton CAO Cheryl Martens said Tuesday she could not comment on the matter as it is still in litigation.

The town and VTS met for two settlement conferences in small claims court before the case was adjourned last November, without a resolution. The judge instructed VTS it needs to decide whether to move the caboose along to trial or reopen negotiating.

“Absolutely VTS would much rather settle this out of court. This is a total waste of taxpayers’ money. The town should not be claiming ownership of assets that don’t belong to them but we are standing up for our rights,” said Guerster, who announced in January she is seeking the mayor’s chair in the upcoming municipal elections.

If the town will not negotiate “we are prepared and I am ready to proceed to court,” she said.

The original lawsuit was seeking $6,608 for damages caused to its fence when the caboose was moved, $20 for a lock and $28,371 for unspecified damages to the rail car.

At that time the VTS had not been allowed into the caboose to assess the actual damages so they asked for the maximum amount allowed under small claims, said Guerster.

That claim also estimated the caboose’s value at $60,000.

In September 2017, under the court’s direction, members of the trail society were permitted to make a thorough inspection of the caboose and its interior.

The society will now be asking for $15,000 which includes the cost of the fence.

Guerster said that a window in the caboose has been improperly replaced resulting in damage.

There has been “weather damage, wood rot, damages to seats, missing pieces, the benches have been damaged…all kinds of damage.”

She estimated the last time VTS renovated the caboose, between 2009 and 2012, it cost members approximately $7,000.

After doing market research and seeing the caboose in its present condition the VTS is also adjusting its estimated value to $15,000.

Neither party is able to share details from the two settlement conferences, however Guerster said ownership of the caboose is still at the heart of the case.

“Our position has always been VTS owns the caboose, the VTS acquired the caboose and VTS is the rightful owner of the caboose.”