MIDDLEBOURNE - Tyler County Clerk Teresea Hamilton's lottery-style selection system for access to property records is relieving most of the nightly congestion outside the courthouse.
Last week, county officials called a public meeting to discuss the problem of having dozens of people spend the night in line around the courthouse to obtain one of 96 coveted daily slots to search land records. In addition to setting up tents and mattresses on the sidewalk, residents alleged some of those waiting in the long line were littering and throwing cigarette butts onto private property.
"We have gotten a few complaints, but it has been working pretty well," Hamilton said of the lottery system that discourages people from waiting in line at night because they are now chosen at random to work in the records room. "I am very pleased."
Throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale fields, courthouses are crowded with oil and gas abstractors. But an extremely small records vault makes Tyler County's situation even more difficult, as only 16 people can fit at one time. To accommodate the increase in business, abstractors are limited to two hours inside the vault, but the courthouse is now open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Hamilton said the random number drawing takes place every day to determine which abstractors will get to work in the vault the following day. She acknowledged some abstractors simply will not get to work on a particular day.
Hamilton now hopes to digitize the county's property records, which would allow abstractors to search for information on the Internet rather than having to work their way through the deed books in the small office. She said some scanning has already taken place.
"Once we get that done, we should have a much better situation," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association has agreed to pay for the work. The association's members include Chesapeake Energy, Consol Energy, XTO Energy, EQT Corp., Dominion Resources, MarkWest Energy and many other oil and natural gas companies.
Tyler County Prosecutor D. Luke Furbee requested an opinion from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey regarding whether the county could accept a private donation to digitize the records. Morrisey said it is not a problem as long as the donation is unsolicited and is given to the county as a whole, not to an individual.
"We appreciate any help we can get," Hamilton added.