LISBON - The Columbiana County Courthouse hallways are no longer crowded, and an off-site location opened specifically because of those crowds is now closed.
So where are all those workers who clogged the courthouse for the past two years while researching deeds for oil and gas drilling companies wanting to lease county property?
The answer is twofold. First, much of the work can now be done online, and, secondly, the leasing phase of the shale gas boom appears to be winding down.
"There's a dramatic reduction in traffic there (at the off-site location) and in the courthouse, so it appears to me back a more normal operation," said county Commissioner Mike Halleck.
He keeps in contact with people in the shale gas industry and they have indicated leasing is slowing down as the focus shifts to the drilling phase.
It was only four months ago that commissioners and county Recorder Craig Brown were looking for solutions to alleviate overcrowding in the courthouse, as dozens of workers waited in line outside the recorder's office and jammed into a basement office to perform deed searches and make copies.
In response to the overcrowding, commissioners in April made the former county elections board office available to those workers, and Brown agreed to move the deed index books there. With the books went about half the crowds, which alleviated much of the overcrowding.
Brown said he closed the off-site location recently and moved the index books back to the courthouse after he contracted with GBS Corp., a software company with an office in Mahoning County, which made the index books available online through a link to the recorder's website.
The cost of the work was $2,500, plus a $300 monthly fee for maintaining the website.
Deed researchers no longer have to come to the courthouse to perform the initial legwork and can instead search the index book online from any location, which tells them where to find the actual deed. This enables researchers to do this preliminary work from home or, for those who live outside the area, from their hotel rooms and restaurants.
Brown said another contributing factor is that Chesapeake Energy, which is by far the largest leaseholder in the county, hardly ever needs to send researchers to the courthouse anymore after it paid to digitalize deed records, and that process has been completed.