Park gas revenue question arises
WELLSBURG – There appeared to have been some doubt over who should get revenue from natural gas drilling at Brooke Hills Park – the Brooke County Commission or the park board – but the two parties agreed Tuesday to work together for a resolution.
At its meeting Tuesday, the commission was visited by several members of the county’s park and recreation commission, known by many as the Brooke Hills Park board; its manager, Janice McFadden; and attorney, Bill Watson.
Brooke County Prosecutor Joseph Barki III also was on hand to explain ownership of oil and gas rights for some parcels at the park that were in question after the commission was asked by Chesapeake Energy to ratify a lease for property where it has been drilling.
The park board has received $750,000 for signing a lease with Appalachia Midstream Services allowing Chesapeake Energy to drill on nearly 100 acres at the rear of the park near Pearce Run Road.
The park also will receive 18 percent of royalties on about 90 acres, with other royalties going to descendants of the W.C. Gist family, who retained mineral rights to a portion of the former farm land they donated to the county in the early 1970s.
But Barki said the county clerk’s office has received checks from Chesapeake in the name of the Brooke County Court, a name once used for the county commission. In response, the commissioners asked him to do a title search for the property, he said.
Barki said he found a few parcels, totaling about 228 acres, and their oil and gas rights are in the commission’s name. He said the two boards may reach a resolution through talks or seek a legal opinion in court.
Bill Watson, park board attorney, said the commissioners had proposed filing a quitclaim deed, which involves the transfer of property between two parties with the understanding the transfer involves only whatever interests the first party may have at that time.
Watson said property at the park was in the Brooke County Commission’s name until the commission formed the park and recreation commission to manage the park in the 1960s.
In recent years land at the park also has been transferred to the Brooke County Commission so it could be used as a match for grants secured for park projects, such as the restoration of the toll house.
Watson said even when the land was in the commission’s name, the deeds stipulated that it was for park purposes. He said revenue from the gas drilling shouldn’t be used for other purposes, such as expanding the county courthouse, a current goal of the county commission.
Walter Ferguson, a long-time park board member, said the board and various volunteers struggled for years to maintain the park using the funds available. He said now that it has a greater source of revenue, the park board hopes to make the park a local attraction.
The park board has made plans to heat the park’s swimming pool and add a chairlift for the handicapped this year. Members have discussed pursuing additional funds for a water park and other facilities in the future.
County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi told the group, “I am in no way going to cause a fight.”
Andreozzi said he hopes the two boards can reach an agreement, adding, “I have no desire to take anything away from the park.” Andreozzi moved to meet with the park board to seek a resolution out of court.
County Commissioner Norma Tarr seconded the motion, but park board member Kenny Fletcher suggested it would be a conflict of interest because her husband serves on the park board.
Tarr, who has abstained from other votes involving the park, agreed to abstain, and the move was supported by Andreozzi and Commissioner Tim Ennis.