Hill retires as gas and oil liaison
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Steve Hill, who served as Belmont County oil and gas liaison during the initial influx of the oil and gas industry, has retired from the position.
The Belmont County Board of Commissioners announced it last week and commended Hill work in laying the groundwork of the relationship and procedures during that period.
“He’s been involved in a lot of different aspects and he’s really done a great job in all those aspects. He will be missed,” Commissioner J.P. Dutton said.
Hill came to the job with a background in energy, having retired from the North American Coal Corporation in 2014 before beginning work for the county in 2015 under then-Belmont County Engineer Fred Bennett. Among his chief responsibilities was the arrangement of road use maintenance agreements.
“What it boiled down to is I did the road use maintenance agreements between the oil and gas companies and the county. I enjoyed doing that, working with the oil and gas companies and keeping an eye on the county roads. Making sure everybody was abiding by the rules. They weren’t allowed on roads unless they had that RUMA agreement,” he said.
Hill was involved with the initial stage of setting up the working relationship between the county and the influx of new business. This included the work of coordinating the entities so that everyone knew what was permitted and expected.
He credited the assistance of Don Pickenpaugh, now retired, who had served as director of the Belmont County Geographic Information System office.
“He helped me out immensely. When I finally gave up doing the RUMAs, we had over 200 RUMAs at that point, and trying to track those 200 RUMAs, Don Pickenpaugh did a lot for me. He set up a map and a spread sheet with what roads they were using, the mileage.”
Since that time, the agreements have allowed for the maintenance and pavements of miles of county roadway, while the Belmont County Engineer’s office has unable to pave due to lack of funds and pressing emergency demands.
“I’ve happy with what I did when I was there, and the help that I got also,” he said. “They did a lot of improvements to our county roads.”
In April 2017 Hill went to the commissioners and expressed an interest in retiring. After some discussion, Hill agreed to continue working on the lease agreements.
“The engineering department has taken over the RUMAs,” he said, adding the commissioners’ staff will be taking on the oil and gas leases. Hill added that he would be available to provide any additional help as the transition continues.
“They got really good people there. I told them they could call me at any time,” he said.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the commissioners, they were great,” he said, adding that he commended the commissioners’ staff as well. “I really can’t say enough good about what they do. They are really, really good people to work for, the people in the commissioners’ office. I think I lasted this long because of the commissioner and the (staff) in the commissioners’ office.”
“We’ll continue executing RUMA agreements and canceling out agreements they no longer need. We’ve gotten some improvements made as a result of them, and I expect that’s going to continue. It seems those companies are here to stay. We’ll continue to work with them,” Belmont County Engineer Terry Lively said, adding that his office is keeping up with the shifting nature of the business.
“That industry changes so fast. Companies buy up other companies. … There’s always somebody new. It was good to have that initial contact at first,” he said. “It’s slowed things down obviously, we don’t have anymore people here than we did before. The RUMA work is not at the top of our priorities. We do it as we have time to do it.”
Dutton added that the possibility of filling Hill’s position will be decided after the board is transitioned into 2019 and get input from incoming commissioner Jerry Echemann.
“It’s not something we’re actively looking at now, but it’s something we may look to place,” he said.
“He originally had been focused on RUMAs and on leasing, and then just general issues that would sometimes arise as pertains to oil and gas. In the past year or so the engineer’s office has taken over more of the RUMA duties,” Dutton said.
Mark Thomas, who had served as a commissioner for the past five years, said Hill’s service was valued.
“I am grateful for Steve’s years of service as he has been a very valuable county employee over these past four or so years,” he said. “Under his leadership and guidance, we were able to negotiate very favorable county leases that have directly benefited county taxpayers. Additionally, in the years 2014-15, Steve was able to negotiate the paving of 50 or more miles of county roads, all completed by the private sector companies using our roads. We are losing a very important resource and I hope the new board finds funding to hire someone to take Steve’s job.”