Utah Lake dredging company’s bankruptcy reveals owners and funding

Lake Restoration Solutions wanted to dredge Utah Lake and use the sediment to develop island communities for about 500,000 people.

Lake Restoration Solutions | Recreational Island (Concept Art)

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Some interesting tidbits emerged earlier this month during a meeting of creditors in the Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS) bankruptcy case. LRS planned to dredge Utah Lake and use the sediment to develop island communities for about 500,000 people. It filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July after the Department of Natural Resources declared the $6 billion plan to privatize the public lakebed unconstitutional.

Ryan Benson, LRS’s CEO, had to answer to creditors in a Utah district courtroom on Sept. 12. During that questioning, Benson listed Jeff Hartley among partial owners in his company. Hartley was a lobbyist for LRS and also represented Vineyard City, which sits on the east shore of the lake. Vineyard City Mayor Julie Fullmer pledged $5 million to the project and wrote a letter of support as LRS sought nearly $1 billion in financing from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Also along the funding vein, a slide from a September 2020 meeting with the Governor’s Office asking for a $10 million loan guarantee shows LRS claiming two other sources of funding. One was a “well-established family fund” that accounted for $10 million in backing. Another was $5 million from the Prospera Impact Fund. In court, Benson said that was an either/or situation and LRS chose to go with Prospera.

“I’m not aware of any other funds that came into LRS,” Benson said, “other than Prospera and Utah Lake Development Fund.”

And there was the matter of the company’s payment to Big Game Forever, a nonprofit Benson founded to lobby against federal protections for wolves. Benson previously said Big Game Forever accepted $80,000 and agreed to forgive $250,000 in debt. In the hearing, Benson said that debt came from a loan the nonprofit had issued to LRS and from the sale of LRS’s “intellectual property.” Benson added that “we haven’t been able to find a document” of the loan.

Correction: Oct. 4, 2023, 5:50 p.m. This article was updated with the correct company that was a funding source for LRS. It was Prospera Impact Fund.