Courthouse Campout Causes Consternation
MIDDLEBOURNE – Dozens of abstractors looking to lock up land for oil and gas drilling flood the Tyler County Courthouse daily, with some arriving as early as 6 p.m. the night before just to secure a place in line to enter the County Clerk’s Office in the morning.
Although Middlebourne residents Brandy Frye and Sherry Perkey understand the abstractors and the accompanying “line holders” – who can hold the abstractors’ places in the long line to the clerk’s office – have the right to earn a living, they want some sort of order restored to what they believe is becoming a chaotic, “free-for-all” situation.
“I want people to be able to work, but I want there to be some kind of supervision,” said Perkey, spokeswoman for a group of concerned residents. “We need some police protection from midnight to 8 a.m. And there is no place for these people to go to the bathroom when they are out there at night.”
Tyler County Sheriff Earl P. “Bob” Kendle Jr.’s office said a public meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the county courthouse at the corner of Main and Court streets in Middlebourne. In addition to the sheriff, county commissioners, County Clerk Theresa Hamilton, representatives of the oil and natural gas companies and residents are expected to attend.
“I want us to come together as a community to figure out a way to resolve these problems,” Perkey said.
Throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale fields, courthouses crowded with oil and gas abstractors are a common sight. Even though the title searching and leasing seems to have slowed a bit in Ohio County over the past six months, activity remains very heavy in Belmont County where some abstractors are now doing some of their work across the street at the St. Clairsville Public Library.
What makes Tyler County’s situation more difficult, according to Hamilton, is that the records vault is extremely small, holding a maximum of 16 people at any one time. To accommodate the increase in business, abstractors are limited to two hours inside the vault, while the courthouse is now open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Because this means a maximum of 96 abstractors can get work done during the day, getting a position inside Hamilton’s office can be quite a chore. Some abstractors or line holders use lawn chairs, blankets, cots and mattresses to catch some sleep while waiting in line at night.
“Most of them are very respectful,” Hamilton said. “They are wanting to do a job just like we do.”
Frye and Perkey agree that most of the workers are polite and do not cause problems, but they said there have been reports of people littering and smoking on private property. There was also a report last week of some vehicle break-ins overnight, though the incidents have not been tied to any abstractors.
“All we are asking for is some organization and protection,” Perkey said.
Hamilton said she and her small staff are working as quickly as they can to digitize the land records, which would allow abstractors to search for information on the Internet, rather than having to physically work their way through the deed books in the small office.
“We really have no idea how long this is going to last. I guess it all depends on the market,” she said.