For many weeks now the office of Belmont County Recorder Mary Catherine Nixon has been literally overrun with oil and gas company representatives searching property deeds with the aim of attracting the landowners to deal with them to acquire drilling rights to the Marcellus and Utica shale underneath their property.
It is not surprising to see anywhere from 25 to 35 of the abstractors squeezing around one another to gain access to the records in the office. Some can't even get into the office and are occupying tables set up in the second floor hallway to do their work.
There are others who have to sit on chairs outside the office and hold the land documents on their laps to conduct their studies. "Some of the companies have even brought in their own tables and set them up in the open space outside the office to do their work," exclaimed Nixon, who emitted a somewhat weary "I've never seen anything like this. I never had any idea we'd ever be this busy."
To accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of the gas company representatives, the courthouse and the recorder's office in particular, has been forced into overtime hours. "I have entered into a contract with one gas company to allow them to use the office after hours," Nixon said.
On two different days of the week and a half day on Saturday, the recorder's office stays open to accommodate abstractors from the Permian Oil of Fort Worth, Texas serving as a broker for XTO, a subsidiary of Mobil Exxon.
"We're open two evenings during the week, from 5 to 7 p.m. and a half day on Saturday just for Permian to use the office. They are allowed to have no more than 15 people come into the building," Nixon explained. To make certain no one else gains entrance during those periods when the courthouse is otherwise closed, Nixon has a list of names of the people who will be allowed to enter.
Nixon received the approval of the Belmont County commissioners and also the prosecuting attorney to contract for the extra service, which is not costing taxpayers a cent. The oil firm is footing the bill for the extra hours of operation, for the salaries of two recorder office employees needed to work during those hours and also for the security personnel that must be provided.
Under the contract, Permian pays Nixon, who in turn transfers payments to the individuals who stay overtime to handle the extra work. She has five full time and two part time employees in the office. "I try to pass the extra work around," Nixon added.
And she said there are no complaints from the employees about having to work the extra hours, admitting that they are well reimbursed for their work. "It's Christmas time," she smiled. "They love to get the extra money."
Some extra money is also coming in to the Belmont County coffers because of the legal work required by the various companies to secure land leases in the recorder's office. "On Monday, for example," Nixon pointed out, "we took in a total of $8,894." That is almost triple the revenue produced during a normal weekday operation.
Monroe County is facing an even more complex situation as far as a request for opening the recorder's office in the courthouse in Woodsfield for extra hours to accommodate the oil/gas abstractors. Nixon said she was contacted by Monroe County Recorder Ann Block to see how she was handling the overtime requests.
In Monroe County the oil/gas companies have asked that the recorder's office remain open an additional three hours every day of the week, all day on Saturdays and a half day on Sunday. And Nixon noted that Block has a staff of just two people in her office.
Black Friday is turning into the longest day of the year.
Retailers - big and small - have been jockeying for the most advantageous time to open their stores for the Black Friday sales extravaganza so as to get the jump on their competitors.
The result: Some stores will start offering their big Black Friday specials on Thursday - only a few hours after their employees consume their Thanksgiving dinners. In past years, most big box stores and many smaller shops have maneuvered for the earliest Friday opening - anywhere from 3 to 6 or 7 a.m.
Not this year. When it became evident that some stores at the Ohio Valley Mall would be opening their doors at midnight to lure the avid Black Friday shoppers to their stores, the Wal-Mart supercenter at the Ohio Valley Plaza decided to offer an even earlier start. The Black Friday sales specials at Wal-Mart will begin at 10 p.m. on Thursday. And I've heard reports there are stores planning to beat that hour by opening at 9 p.m. Thursday. Ads in today's News-Register should provide the times some stores will be opening.
The earlier start for this biggest shopping day of the year may be perfectly suited to hundreds of shoppers who, in previous years, lined up at stores hours before they opened for business at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. It makes me wonder just what time the shoppers will start lining up to be first in line for the bargains this week.
Mall manager George Diab said at least a dozen stores have already indicated the midnight hour will be their opening time and he anticipates there may be others before the big day arrives..
A preview of what can be expected to happen for the Black Friday sales event was clearly evident on Thursday when the grand opening of the new hhgregg store in the Ohio Valley Mall complex was held. Long before the 10 a.m. opening time, shoppers formed a long line outside the entrance. It extended beyond the entrance to the adjacent CVS Pharmacy. It was estimated more than 100 were there waiting for the store to open.
With a facade that extends about 30 feet from ground level, there's no mistaking the location of the new store. Even before that official opening, the store had what the general manager, Todd Young, said was an impressive soft opening for a week that brought in a steady stream of shoppers.
"There was a good flow of customers," Young asserted. "It was a good start."
Opening of hhgregg, which claims to be America's fastest growing appliance and electronics retailer, put a dent in the unemployment figures for this area. Asked if employees were brought in from other locations, Young answered, "All of our employees are from this area. We have approximately 50 employees."
To acquaint the new workers with the company's sales techniques, Young said the employees "had two weeks of intensive training to prepare them." He pointed out there are both full and part time employees, "but there are more full time. All of our sales staff is full time employees."
Eugene "Doc" Householder has been singled out for a special honor for his efforts in helping in the creation of "Ohio's Appalachian Country," an organization dedicated to promoting tourism and fostering tourism development in the Buckeye State.
At the group's annual meeting in Columbus, Householder, who is director of the Belmont County Tourism Council, was presented with organization's "Friend of Appalachia" award.
Fifteen years ago, Householder, along with tourism directors from Guernsey and Muskingum counties met regularly to discuss tourism business in their areas. "After a while we decided we should expand and take other counties into our group. After several meetings the Appalachian Country name was selected. Now there are 32 county members extending from Ashtabula to Cincinnati."
The organization has been divided into four regions. Belmont County is in the eastern division along with Harrison and Guernsey counties. Jefferson County is in the northern division and Monroe and Noble counties are in the central division.
"It's OK to say Merry Christmas to me."
Badges containing that message, which has in recent years become somewhat controversial, will be distributed by the St. Clairsville Knights of Columbus Council 4243 to St. Mary's Church parishioners after weekend masses during the month of December.
K of C Grand Knight John Swan said distribution of the colorful badges "is designed to encourage Christians to help keep Christ in Christmas. The effort," he continued, "helps counter the always active, non-Christian pressure to have Christ and God removed from Christmas and virtually every traditional aspect of our daily lives."
Badges were distributed for the first time last year and the response was overwhelming. "We're going to have a bigger supply of them this year," Swan said.
He noted the badges silently encourage everyone to wish a Merry Christmas should the individual be hesitant to do so.
"Unfortunately, in an attempt to be politically correct," Swan pointed out, "many retailers have instructed their employees to only say Happy Holidays."
Happy Thanksgiving Day.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.