Concerns are growing over the possibility of Carbon County losing one of its biggest tourist attractions.
Jim Thorpe borough remains in a legal battle with the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway over unpaid taxes. According to a civil lawsuit filed in Carbon County court, the borough and Jim Thorpe School District are seeking over $95,000 in amusement taxes from Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad, who owns the tracks the Railway operates on.
On Thursday night, business owners and residents came before borough council to express concerns. They're worried the fight could threaten the future of one of their town's biggest attractions.
"This gentleman has the ability to cripple the local economy should he pull the railroad out," said Darren Behan, owner of Molly Mcguires Pub & Steakhouse in downtown Jim Thorpe, of Andy Muller, the CEO of Reading & Northern.
Behan and other business owners are fearful of the impact if the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway were to depart town for good.
"I also see the amount of people that are not in town when the trains are not running and it's magnanimous and it would be a very, very large hit to my business and other local businesses," added Behan.
The Railway brings thousands to the area every year, taking riders on a 45-minute excursion into the Lehigh Gorge.
"We have about 300,000 to 400,000 people coming into the visitor's center in Jim Thorpe every year. Now we theorize that a number of those folks are coming off the train itself," said Chris Barrett, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
But now the borough and the Railroad are at a standstill. Jim Thorpe wants over $95,000 in unpaid amusement taxes. It's a fee several other businesses in town pay.
"I don't believe we get to decide who gets to pay it and who doesn't get to pay it," said Greg Strubinger, Jim Thorpe Borough Council president.
But the Railroad isn't budging. Community members are worried the fight could lead to a permanent derailment.
"I'm not saying to just overlook what you feel he owes but just think of this on a grander scheme for smaller businesses. I may have to downsize, I may have to cut half my staff," said Behan.
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau is one of the entities trying to bring the two sides together.
"We work with the Railroad a lot. We obviously promote their product pretty heavily because again it is a significant attraction. We've always had a good relationship with them so if we can use that relationship to help anyone to come to the table, we're happy to do that," said Barrett.
Jim Thorpe's mayor says he feels for business owners, but wants them to know the borough is trying to meet with Reading & Northern, but has had little success.
"Mr. Muller needs to come to the table and sit down and talk to Council. Council has asked that, Berkheimer has asked that, the borough manager has asked that, State Representative Heffley, they have all asked for him to sit down and talk," said Mayor Michael Sofranko.
Representatives from Reading & Northern were not at Thursday's meeting.
As of now, the borough has not been formally notified by the Railroad in regards to them pulling the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway train rides out of Jim Thorpe.
According to Jim Thorpe's borough manager, Maureen Sterner, the Railroad has requested a 30-day extension to facilitate a meeting.