Spring/Summer 2018

Marty Lagina, ’82: Modern Renaissance Man at the 45th Parallel

By Kristy Demas

Marty Lagina
Marty Lagina, ’82

What do a Spanish coin from the 17th century, natural gas, wind turbines, and exceptional Michigan red wines have in common? Marty Lagina and, strangely enough, the 45th parallel.

Lagina, ’82, never has practiced law. He has, however, enjoyed success in numerous other fields—success he attributes in large measure to his law degree. Best known as one half of the Lagina brothers on the TV show The Curse of Oak Island, his eclectic career began decades ago while a law student.

“From childhood, I intended to go to law school. People always said I should be a lawyer because I loved to talk with people,” Lagina laughs. The Upper Peninsula native started out, though, at Michigan Technological University earning his mechanical engineering degree. After working as a petroleum engineer, he was ready for law school—choosing Michigan for its reputation and in-state tuition.

He feels fortunate he had professors like Beverly Pooley, Marcus Plant, Olin Browder, and Yale Kamisar. “They were leaders in their fields. I loved their lectures—and law school in general. Because I’d been in the workforce already, I never felt the same pressure as my peers.” In fact, Lagina worked as an independent petroleum engineer during law school.

Which brings us to the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator. It runs through Northern Michigan—northeast of Traverse City—where Lagina found shale that contained natural gas. So as a law student, he took leases and drilled wells. 

By 1984, he founded Terra Energy, an oil and natural gas production company. “My law degree gave me the confidence to start Terra, and every subsequent venture. You can’t make a move in business without legal knowledge. I didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer initially, so I acted as my own.”

By 2004, after selling his company, Lagina craved new challenges. “When you’re in oil and gas, you’re branded by many as a villain. I’d been interested in renewables and knew wind power technology was evolving, so I got into wind energy.” 

His company, Heritage Sustainable Energy, has built four utility-scale wind farms in Michigan, including one in the Upper Peninsula, and recently started installing solar facilities.

Heritage could take all his time, but Lagina has other interests. He says hiring good people frees him up for things like The Curse of Oak Island. The show brings to life a family obsession dating back to 1965 when his older brother, Rick, read about the Nova Scotia island’s rumored treasure—like that Spanish coin—in Reader’s Digest.

When portions of the island (which happen to lie near the 45th parallel) came up for sale, the Laginas and their business partners snapped them up. In 2014, History began filming the show, in which Rick, Marty, and his son, Alex, try to solve the 220-year-old mystery of the buried treasure. Now in its fifth season, it’s a fan favorite.

Lagina does hire attorneys now, but still relies on his degree when interpreting laws like Canada’s Treasure Trove Act. Applicable only to Oak Island, it states the Crown owns all property found unless one has a special license. With the license—which the Laginas have—treasure hunters can keep what they find except for 10 percent and whatever the government deems as artifacts. Lagina is not as certain as Rick that they will find the treasure, but “…the only certainty is if we do find something, there will be plenty of claimants.”

When he’s not on Oak Island, Lagina can be found at another of his ventures, Mari Vineyards, near Traverse City. “Wine is in my blood—nel sangue, as my Italian grandmother would say.” 

Traveling due east along the nearby 45th parallel from Mari Vineyards, which is named for his grandmother, you’d eventually emerge in the regions of France and Italy where the very best red wine grapes grow. “These regions produce the finest wine in the world,” Lagina says. “I figured since Mari Vineyards was at the same latitude, we could grow the same grapes here.” 

To overcome the variances in growing seasons, he installed hoop houses over the grapes. The result is “the best red wine in the state,” says Lagina.

Lagina isn’t sure what’s next, or how the 45th parallel will be involved. “I’ve had the good fortune to do lots of fun and interesting things. I don’t think any of it would have been possible without my law degree giving me the knowledge and confidence to pursue my interests. Getting up in the morning eager to go to work—that’s success.”