The West Virginia Conservation Agency also is hiring outside attorneys for a two-phase review of property near its 170 flood control dams statewide.
Lawyers will first focus on the Potomac Valley Conservation District near Romney, where the majority of the state's dams are located, agency spokesman Andrew Stacy said. He said the project's second phase would cover dams elsewhere in the state.
Conservation Agency executive director Brian Farkas told lawmakers late last month his agency often has no idea where easements for the dams are located, where they begin or end.
He said homes and businesses have been built in some easements, however, so the state eventually might have to purchase those properties.
Stacy said some structures are built at the base of dams or in "auxiliary spillways," areas designed to flood when a dam pool reaches its capacity.
The Attorney General's Office adopted a new policy for hiring outside counsel earlier this year, instituting a bidding system similar to the process used when the state hires other contractors.
Agencies must request outside counsel through the Attorney General's Office, which then approves or denies the request. If the attorney general determines hiring outside attorneys is in the state's best interest, the office issues a "request for proposal" to begin the bidding process.
After the bidding period has closed, the Attorney General's Office works with the state agency in question to pick a lawyer based on a set list of criteria. That includes the law practices' skills, ethics issues, reputation among their peers, as well as fees, costs and expenses.
The Attorney General's Office determined the Agriculture Department and the state Conservation Agency could hire outside lawyers because the work will request expertise in real estate law, a large time commitment and extensive travel around the state.
"It is not feasible or cost-effective for the Office of the Attorney General to provide the requested legal services," chief counsel Dan Greear wrote in an order earlier this month.