MIDDLEBOURNE, W.Va. -- Tyler County is using a lottery to help keep oil and gas drilling companies from camping around the courthouse to research property deeds.
Starting Friday, Tyler County Clerk Teresa Hamilton will allow abstractors to randomly draw numbers to determine who will get one of the 96 coveted daily slots to access the records vault.
Oil and gas abstractors are crowding courthouses throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale fields, but Hamilton says Tyler County's situation is more difficult because its vault is extremely small.
Middlebourne residents turned out Thursday to meet with county officials about the issue.
Officials told The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register that they hope the move will prevent the abstractors and their so-called "line holders" from camping around the courthouse all night long. Some abstractors or line holders have been using lawn chairs, blankets, cots and mattresses to catch some sleep while waiting in line at night.
"We have worked very hard for this to be fair," County Commission President John Stender said, 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."
Resident Brandy Glover-Frye hopes 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.
To accommodate the crowds, the courthouse already had extended its hours and abstractors have been limited to two hours each inside the vault. The vault can only accommodate 16 people at a time.
The county also is working to digitize its 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. One of the oil companies has tentatively agreed to pay for putting the records in digital form, 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.