Utah State Treasurer appoints director of new Land Trusts Protection and Advocacy Office

SALT LAKE CITY – March 7, 2019 – Utah State Treasurer David Damschen today announced the appointment of Justin Atwater as the director of the newly created Land Trusts Protection and Advocacy Office.

During the 2018 general session, the legislature authorized the creation of the office to advocate for Utah trust lands beneficiaries, oversee SITLA and SITFO administrations and help the public understand and support these endowments.  The office is overseen by the state treasurer and a newly created Protection and Advocacy Committee.

“The depth and quality of Mr. Atwater’s background in law, government operations, real estate development and investment uniquely qualifies him to serve as the first director of the Advocacy Office,” Treasurer Damschen said. “Monitoring complex land and investment management decisions to ensure they benefit all current and future beneficiaries requires specialized expertise that we are fortunate to have found in Mr. Atwater.”

Atwater brings more than a decade of experience in real estate development, management, entitlement, leasing, law and investment. He recently served as executive director of the State Executive Branch Ethics Commission and as the chief operating officer and general counsel for a Utah-based real estate development firm. In a previous role, he assisted the developer of the largest ski terrain in North America in achieving several legal and real estate development results that shaped the future of the mountain recreation and development landscape in Utah.

“I am enthusiastic about developing an environment of cooperation and providing responsible, undivided advocacy for the preservation, stability and growth of trust lands assets for years to come,” Atwater said.

The Protection and Advocacy Committee was formed last fall.  The committee screened, selected and interviewed candidates during the past six months.  They recently presented Treasurer Damschen with their top two nominations.

“We are thrilled by Mr. Atwater’s appointment and are eager to work with him to advocate for and protect the interests of current and future trust beneficiaries,” Protection and Advocacy Board Chair Mel Brown said.

Atwater will assume his role on March 18.

About the School and Institutional Trust System

When Utah became a state in 1896, Congress granted approximately seven million acres of land into twelve separate trusts for the support of state institutions, the largest being a trust for the perpetual support of public schools. The land has been administered by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) since 1994. In 2014, the Utah State Legislature created SITFO as an independent state agency with a five-member Board of Trustees, chaired by the state treasurer, to invest the funds produced by SITLA’s administration of the land.