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Ludington State Park Nominated as First Land Reserve

Citizens bid to put popular state park on Lake Michigan off limits to oil and gas drilling

March 12, 2001 | By Arlin Wasserman
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

LUDINGTON — The Michigan Land Use Institute today joined Hamlin Township and three citizen organizations to nominate Ludington State Park to be Michigan’s first state land reserve. If the nomination is accepted by the state Department of Natural Resources, it would bar oil and gas leasing and development from the park. The Hamlin Lake Association, the Hamlin Lake Preservation Society, and the Lake Michigan Federation are the other organizations seeking land reserve status for Ludington State Park.

The nomination for Ludington State Park is the first time citizens have asked the DNR to designate a parcel for land reserve status under new rules the agency adopted last year. The nominating petition seeks solely to protect land and minerals that the state owns. The proposal does not affect any privately owned land or minerals. If the Natural Resources Commission accepts the nomination it will recommend that the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives both pass resolutions designating Ludington State Park as a state land reserve.

"The State Land Reserve program gives citizens the ability to help decide what valuable areas in our public parks and forests deserve long-term protection," said Arlin Wasserman, the Institute’s policy director. "The program provides a counterbalance to the oil and gas industry’s ability to essentially colonize public lands for energy development."

With its breathtaking blend of sand dunes, forests, and wetlands, the 5,000-acre Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan is widely regarded as one of the premier state-owned natural areas. With over 800,000 visitors annually, it is among the most heavily-visited Michigan state parks, and is a cornerstone of the economy in the Ludington region.

Citizens nominated the park for reserve status because oil and gas drilling could damage the fragile sand dunes and the region’s financial strength. Accidental spills would quickly move through the sand and into groundwater and nearby lakes. In addition, because the oil and gas reserves along the coast contain high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas, drilling along the coast presents a public safety risk. The loss in tourist-related business far outweighs the economic benefits from draining oil and gas from beneath the park.

A Park Under Pressure from Oil and Gas Companies
Ludington State Park has been the focus of the oil industry’s development plans since July1997, when the DNR entertained an industry proposal to develop oil and gas reserves there. Hamlin Township residents quickly responded. They traveled to Lansing and opposed the plan before the Natural Resources Commission.

Citizens made the case that drilling for oil and gas, and operating the related industrial equipment needed to transport and store it, endangered a prized natural resource. With the help of the Michigan Land Use Institute and technical consultant Anthony Groves, citizens demonstrated how drilling activities would destabilize the fragile dunes. Citizens described how oil spills could quickly run through sandy soils, placing both Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan at risk. They also showed why tourists might think twice before visiting a park with views marred by a smattering of oil wells.

Local governments and citizens were so effective that the Natural Resources Commission rejected the leasing proposal and Governor John Engler intervened. Gov. Engler proclaimed that "Michigan will not allow drilling under Ludington State Park."

At the time, though, the Natural Resources Commission had no authority to prevent the state from approving future proposals to tap oil and gas deposits beneath the park. Shortly after, former State Representative Bill Bobier introduced legislation that became the State Land Reserve Act.

The Institute, and property owners in Hamlin Township, have been seeking land reserve protections for Ludington State Park for more than two years. The DNR moved slowly, though, because the agency did not develop rules for evaluating the petitions.

In December 2000, the DNR sent the Ludington State Park petition back to the Institute and the other nominating parties. The agency requested additional information concerning the effects of the designation on other activities within the park, and the ability of private companies to siphon off oil and gas deposits beneath the park without state approval.

The new nominating petition sent today responds to these questions as well as others required under the DNR’s newly adopted rules. The Michigan Attorney General’s office also reviewed the State Land Reserve Act to ensure designation will not interfere with private businesses operating in the park or private property surrounding the proposed reserve.

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