Hamlin Lake Preservation Society



Protecting Hamlin Lake for Future Generations 

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January, 2009

By Norval Stephens

Ethel and Nor Stephens, parents of Norval and John Stephens, and several other long-time seasonal owners and one or two year-round residents started the Hamlin Lake Association.  The date was either late in the 70s or early 1980s.  We have a memento in our cottage of an award the group gave my parents for starting the association.

The objective was the improvement of the lake and keeping it as beautiful and quiet as it was.  The association lobbied to get Nurnberg Road serviced more often, to tackle the weed problem, to get some agreement on when the Lake went up and down, among others.  My folks spent six months on Hamlin Lake save for the six weeks they went back to Chicago to let my brother and me and our families have three weeks apiece.  So, I would hear of the meetings, but they were never when John and I were there.

In 1989, my mother died.  Dad turned the operation of our Hamlin Lake home over to his two sons.  My brother got involved in the lake more than I because I travelled on business and could be gone for extended trips.  It became clear to him that we needed a non-profit umbrella organization to which we could all donate and get a tax-deduction.  This required legal work to establish the purpose and identify what activities could be legitimately be tax-deductible.  The Hamlin Lake Association was “tainted” because it had “lobbied” the county, the township and even the state for services or improvements.  Such “political” activity is not tax-deductible—even though we were owed the services we felt.

So, a second organization had to be founded, the Hamlin Lake Preservation Society.  But, the HLA was kept for its purposes to take political action when necessary.  While John was active on the HLPS board, I remained on the HLA board.  In 2001, the HLA had a challenge.  Governor Engler announced that that the Ludington State Park would put parcels up for bid for oil drilling.  The problem was that the State would not allow drilling in the Park, only slant drilling from private property from parcels of at least 40 acres.  The HLA learned that slant drilling could reach at least a mile into the Piney Ridge area and under the Lower Lake to the parcels for bid in the Park.

Fortunately, the Hamlin Lake Improvement Board had been founded and had delivered its report.  This gave the HLA valuable information on the type of sub-soil, the drainage patterns and the permeability of the unique Nordhouse sands.  I headed an effort to develop a four-way attack:

  1. Geological, with the information from the HLIB—showing that the Nordhouse Sands would almost ensure that any spill got into our water supply and into the lakes.  We listed the number of spills recently in and near Mason County.  A spill was a distinct possibility.
  2. Engineering, with the expert testimony of Walt Eversman, who is part of an old Hamlin Lake family and an engineering professor at the University of Missouri-Rolla.  He is a recognized expert on sound and sound transmission.  He determined that the 1,000 hp diesel engines that Michigan has approved to run the collector stations were not only poorly sound-damped but also the sound footprint even under normal conditions would be heard in major sections of the Lower Lake and some parts of the Upper Lake.  His report was irrefutable.
  3. Health, with the proof that a sour well occurs in at least one in 11 wells and in Mason County as often as one in nine.  Inhaling any amount of hydrogen sulfide from a sour well causes irreversible lung damage and even death.  There had been a death within the preceding year from inhalation.
  4. Political, with the help of several Ludington and Hamlin Lake citizens who were active in the Republican Party and knew the Governor well.  In this effort, we met several places around the lake, involved Epworth Heights and the Lincoln Lake area, involved Hamlin Township (whose roads would be seriously degraded by heavy oil-drilling equipment with no tax return to the township, wrote letters to the editor of the local paper, and informed the state senator and representative that we would look with great disfavor on them in the next election if they did not “get to” the Governor.

The Governor had chosen to announce the plan shortly after the Fourth of July, with the General Assembly on recess and presumably the rest of the state enjoying vacation.  We took advantage of a low news period to get the word out of the potential damage to the Lake and the fact that Hamlin Lake and the State Park are the major tourist attractions for the county.  Shortly before Labor Day, I got a call from one of our most significant supporters that the Governor had withdrawn the plan.

But, the HLA labors on.  A previous state representative had secured General Assembly approval of a law to allow citizens to petition the State to put certain lands on land reserve, never to be developed.  In recent elections, we have asked those running to represent us to commit to seeking land reserve status for the State Park.  We have also been working quietly with the Michigan Land Use Institute to secure support for land reserve designation for the State Park.  An obstacle we face that has thus far impeded us is the fact the Governor Engler split the Department of Natural Resources in two, the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  The DNR is now charged with developing, not protecting, natural resources.  With oil at record heights recently, we did not get much support.  With oil now low, we will continue to see if we can get the State Park designated a land reserve.

We believe the Great Lakes agreement against drilling under “or near” any of the Great Lakes gives us a first line of defense—but land reserve designation would assure us we never have to worry.  Several years ago, we met with our state senator and representative to encourage action.    We will continue this effort.

A full-blown lobbying effort would cost at least $20,000, so we are trying the slow approach to succeed.  We do have some money in the treasury for the HLA, but we are husbanding it for the next effort.

That is the story of the HLA, how it was started and what it is doing.








  Hamlin Lake Preservation Society, PO Box 178, Ludington, MI 49431