MIDDLEBOURNE - Starting today, Tyler County Clerk Teresea Hamilton will have oil and natural gas abstractors randomly draw numbers to determine who will get one of the 96 coveted daily slots to research property deeds on Monday.
Hamilton and other county leaders hope this will prevent the abstractors and their so-called "line holders" from camping around the courthouse all night long in an effort to secure their two-hour window to search through Tyler County's collection of land records.
"We have worked very hard for this to be fair," said county Commission President John Stender, noting he believes the random drawing will discourage people from waiting in line to sign in as early as possible. "We like the abstractors. They are an economic benefit to the county."
Photo by Casey Junkins
There soon should be fewer abstractors and “line holders” spending the night outside the Tyler County Courthouse in Middlebourne.
Middlebourne residents turned out Thursday to meet with Stender, Hamilton and other county officials about the dozens of abstractors and line holders standing or sleeping along the sidewalk outside the courthouse every evening. Residents Brandy Glover-Frye and Sherry Perkey hope the situation will now improve.
"I am not going to get excited until I see what happens," Glover-Frye said, noting some of the people waiting in line have been littering and throwing cigarette butts into her yard near the courthouse.
"One bad apple ruins the whole barrel," Perkey added.
Glover-Frye asked Tyler County Prosecutor Luke Furbee and Sheriff Earl P. "Bob" Kendle Jr. if they could do anything about the littering.
"I will gladly prosecute a littering case, but someone must witness it," Furbee said.
Some abstractors or line holders have been using lawn chairs, blankets, cots and mattresses to catch some sleep while waiting in line at night. According to Furbee, it is against state law to place camping equipment outside a courthouse. The law states violators can face up to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.
Furbee also plans to draft an ordinance for Stender and Commissioners Charles Smith and Eric Vincent to consider that would allow the county to cite people for loitering.
The prosecutor said the ordinance should receive its first reading at the commissioners' 9 a.m. meeting Tuesday.
Throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale fields, courthouses are crowded with oil and gas abstractors. What makes Tyler County's situation more difficult, Hamilton said, is that the records vault is extremely small, holding a maximum of 16 people at 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-Friday.
However, Stender and Hamilton said the county is working to digitize its records as quickly as possible, 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. Stender said one of the oil companies has tentatively agreed to pay for putting the records in digital form.
"A lot of our books are in bad condition. If we don't digitize them, we are going to lose them," Stender said.
When a concerned resident asked how the county would prevent abstractors and oil companies from "cheating the system," Stender said the county would be diligent.
"If you try to mess with the rules, we are more than happy to throw you and your company out of here," he said.