More than $1 million already has been realized this year in the Belmont County Recorder's office from the big oil and gas companies seeking to obtain drilling leases from property owners to gain access to the untapped energy supplies contained in the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits.
Never in Belmont County's 200-plus years of existence has there been such feverish leasing activity in the office. It has been literally overrun by abstractors each and every day since the beginning of the year.
"It never stops. We're busy every minute of the day" exclaimed Recorder Mary Catherine Nixon, whose office staff of six full time workers and one part-time employee has been busy as beavers handling the influx of abstractors searching the records to finalize leases.
"We exceeded $100,000 income in each of the first seven months of this year," Nixon declared. In August and September the total lease revenue fell just below that mark but then bounced back in October with another $100,000-plus record.
"So far this month we have taken in over $720,000 and there's still almost two weeks to go." However, the revenue already received for November pushed the total for the year over the $1 million mark.
The total income so far this year comes to a whopping $1,190,431. But sadly, she pointed out, Belmont County gets only half of that money. The state gets the other half. She noted a section of the revised code adopted in 1998 provided for half the money going to the state and the other half to the recorder's office for equipment purchases
Back in the "old days" before the onslaught by the oil/gas companies started, the normal revenue take for recording deeds and other property transactions ranged around $40,000 to $45,000 for one month. "What we're doing now is almost unbelievable," she declared. A half dozen attorneys working in the office was about the norm back then. Now one has to squeeze through the crowd o get into the office.
But Nixon concedes the onset last year of the increased activity was a signal for good times ahead for Belmont County.
Two projects with the potential of eventually luring tourists into the county have been approved for financial aid totaling $31,000 from the Belmont County Tourism Council.
Following a presentation from Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede, the tourism board agreed to provide $26,000 to match an Ohio Department of Transportation enhancement grant of approximately $100,000 to finish renovation work on the former sheriff's residence.
Favede pointed out the original ODOT grant of $679,000 plus $150,000 from the tourism council was sufficient to renovate only the first floor and outside of the residence that sits at the south end of the former Belmont County jail. She said the ODOT grant plus the matching funds provided by the tourism council will be sufficient to complete the renovation of the second floor, based on the Waller Corp's construction estimate. Waller has completed the first floor work.
With the funding mechanism for the project assured, Favede said the entire building building renovation should be completed in February.
The tourism council also approved providing $5,000 to the effort by American Legion Riders Barnesville Post 168 to attract the "Cost of Freedom" exhibit to Barnesville's Memorial Park in May 2014.
The Legion post has started a drive to collect donations totaling $17,000 to finance bringing the American Veterans Traveling Tribute exhibit to Barnesville. To ensure the display could be obtained for that date, the Legion needed an initial $5,000 before January. The tourism board members were in agreement the display would rate as a major tourist attraction for the county.
The large-scale exhibit's centerpiece is an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. An additional 190 feet is a standup display honoring all veterans as well as those currently serving in the armed forces, including first responders. Panels from the exhibit focus on ranks, medals and awards from World War II, the Korean War, U.S. conflicts from 1980 to 2000 and statistics on the American Revolution; Sept. 11, 2001, police and firefighters, the FBI, Fort Hood victims and the Global War on Terror.
Donations may be made by calling Jeff Warner at 740 238-0303 or Joe Brown at 740322-0023 and additional information at Legion Post 168.
For 59 years Andrew "Andy" Zeik has been engaged in an activity that has produced fun, laughter, good times and even healthful exercise for thousands of people in the tri-state area and beyond.
If you've ever been to one of the lively polka dances in Barton, Maynard, Fairpoint, Wheeling Park or anyone of dozens of other venues in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, over the past half century, you undoubtedly have heard Zeik playing his trumpet or vocalizing in either Polish or English.
Next Sunday a special dance is being held from 2-6 p.m. at the Maynard Polish Club to pay tribute to and recognize Zeik for the many years he has devoted to promoting the Polka and Polish traditions.
Zeik began playing the trumpet in 1953 while still a student at St. John High School in Bellaire. He excelled and became a student director. On graduating he formed the Warsaw Serenaders Polka Band. Besides playing in person at numerous dance halls, the band's music was heard in live broadcasts on radio stations in Wheeling, Moundsville and Bellaire. And the popular band made television appearances in Wheeling and Cleveland. He has cut numerous records with his band, on his own and with the famous Polish accordionist and vocalist Li'l Wally.
He vividly recalls the day he got his trumpet. "My father told me if I was going to play a horn I may as well have a good one." The trumpet he got was really a good one because he is still playing it today - 59 years after his Dad bought it.
Zeik also had a good start as a vocalist even before forming his band. "My mother used to teach me Polish songs. I still remember them and have sung them at many dances."
Even while with the Warsaw Serenaders, /Zeik enrolled in Wheeling Jesuit College and graduated in 1960. He went to work as a systems engineer at the RCA plant in Cambridge, specializing in the defense electronics to develop aircraft guidance and submarine environmental control systems. With the latter he helped develop a silent system which allowed the U.S. submarines to travel submerged though the oceans without making a sound that would tip off enemy craft to their location.
His work also involved developing the Minuteman Missile which he boasted has been tested to be "99.999 percent reliable." They are stored in silos at air bases around the country. I had the opportunity many years ago to go down deep into one of those silos to get a close look at a Minuteman Missile during a visit to the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska in Gen. Curtis LeMay's personal turbo jet.
Much of Zeik's work was confidential and conducted in "white rooms" which were completely clean of any dirt or dust. Despite the sensitive nature and importance of his work, Zeik didn't stayed away from performing with the Warsaw Serenaders. "We were on a schedule playing every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday."
When the Cambridge plant lost its defense contract and closed, Zeik moved on for a while, teaching at Wheeling Jesuit University, then at an aluminum reduction plant, a local hospital and finally with Belmont County where he worked on statewide computer networks. He retired in 2003,
No matter where his work took him, Zeik continued playing with a polka band. But the sudden death of two band members caused him to disband the Warsaw Serenaders. "In 1985, I teamed up with Charlie Tansek and joined the Chicago Tradition polka band" and he has played with that band up to now. If he gets a call to substitute with another musical group, he goes. He'll be playing that same old trumpet when he appears with Tansek's band next Sunday.
Zeik's biggest thrill came when he was playing with the Warsaw Serenaders at Fontana's Nightclub in Tiltonsville. "That's where I met my wife." And they're still living happily ever after in a fashionable home on Joella Drive in St. Clairsville.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.