MIDDLEBOURNE, W.Va. -- Property record searches by oil and gas drilling companies are overwhelming the Tyler County Courthouse.Dozens of abstractors are lining up outside the courthouse in Middlebourne at night to gain access to the records vault in the County Clerk's Office the next morning. Some have "line holders," people who keep their places in line.County Clerk Theresa Hamilton told The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register that the vault can accommodate only 16 people at a time. To accommodate the crowds, the courthouse has extended its hours and abstractors have been limited to two hours each inside the vault."Most of them are very respectful," Hamilton said. "They are wanting to do a job just like we do."But Middlebourne residents Brandy Frye and Sherry Perkey say more needs to be done because the situation is becoming chaotic."I want people to be able to work, but I want there to be some kind of supervision," said Perkey, spokeswoman for a group of concerned residents. "We need some police protection from midnight to 8 a.m. And there is no place for these people to go to the bathroom when they are out there at night.
"All we are asking for is some organization and protection," Perkey said.Hamilton said she and her small staff are working as quickly as they can to digitize the land records. That would allow abstractors to search for information on the Internet, rather than having to look through the deed books."We really have no idea how long this is going to last. I guess it all depends on the market," she said.A public meeting to discuss the situation is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse, Tyler County Sheriff Earl P. "Bob" Kendle Jr.'s office said. Kendle, Hamilton, county commissioners, representatives of the oil and natural gas companies and residents are expected to attend."I want us to come together as a community to figure out a way to resolve these problems," Perkey said.Frye and Perkey said most of the workers are polite and do not cause problems, but there have been reports of people littering and smoking on private property.