Centre County Prothonotary Deb Immel dragged a huge old record book into court on a cart. She carried slips of microfiche with years of old files distilled onto celluloid.
At question? Is there an 1856 case, scrawled in flowery handwritten script, that details exactly where the boundary line falls between neighboring Snow Shoe and Boggs townships?
No one knows for sure. One side says the boundary is Beech Creek. The other, that it was Beech Creek but isn’t anymore. But finding out could mean a lot of money as the two debate exactly where 11 gas wells are located.
Attorneys and officials for the two municipalities were before Centre County Judge Jonathan Grine to hammer out their border dispute. Most of the negotiations ended up taking place between the lawyers and the judge behind closed doors.
Boggs solicitor Rodney Beard called the only witness, Immel, to give context to the search.
In a land dispute between neighboring property owners, or in a sale or other transfer, the process might include a deed search. There could be a search of documents as the parties try to establish exactly when the current boundaries were drawn.
Between municipalities the process is similar, but of larger scope. Beard says a simple survey isn’t enough to establish the boundaries; those lines have to be established by a court case.
That is what sent Immel on a scavenger hunt through documents that go back in the county’s history to a time when Penn State, then Farmers’ High School, was just one year old. Original documents are stored in the county’s records center at the Willowbank Building. About 780 cases were filed that year.
Beard intends to go through them all looking for something that points to a boundary.
The matter will now be decided by a board of commissioners. The three-person board, including one surveyor or engineer, will review the documentation and other evidence presented by the parties sometime in October and issue a report that can then be challenged in court if either township doesn’t like the results.
The real prize is not land, but money.
The two are arguing over the boundary to be able to claim host municipality status for the gas wells. According to Centre County Planning Office Assistant Director Sue Hannegan, the wells each generate roughly $7,000 a year for a host.
Adjacent municipalities receive a smaller payment. Other municipalities impacted by the debated wells include Milesburg, Philipsburg and Snow Shoe boroughs and Benner, Burnside, Curtin, Howard, Huston, Liberty, Marion, Rush, Spring, Taylor, Union and Worth townships.
When the first payments were made on the wells in November 2012, all 11 wells were listed as being in Snow Shoe Township, which had 30. Boggs had none.
When payments were made in July 2013, that changed, with Snow Shoe down to 19 and Boggs scoring the ones in contention. Another payment is due by Tuesday.
Beard said he hopes the issue is resolved by the end of the year.
Lori Falce can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFalce.