Andru McCrackenBy Andru McCracken

The Columbia Basin Trust has so much money to disperse in Valemount that it’s causing problems in Castlegar.

You don’t know about this? It’s true. Every year the Columbia Basin Trust has a bunch of money to disperse to local nonprofits through their Community Initiatives and Affected Areas Program. But local groups haven’t been using it fast enough, and the balance is growing to epic proportions.

Rumour has it that the money is in gold coins in an underground vault in Castlegar and every year the Trust has to hire a team of miners to increase the size of the cavern that holds it. The miners have a rare distinction to be the only people who have had a full time job as a result of the program for more than three years running.

The part about the miners isn’t true, but it does illustrate a point.

The money can be used in particular ways. Some of us would argue our approach to spending that money hasn’t always netted us the best outcomes.

This year Valemount has $523,000 to spend… in very particular ways.

Some ideas were cast about at council on October 8 that considered how this funding could be used to improve the lives of Valemountonians.

Mayor Owen Torgerson and councillor Pete Pearson brought up ideas to help clean up Valemount’s air quality by increasing the availability of seasoned high-quality firewood.

Both proposals could use refining, but it’s a noble goal, and it might be one of the best ways to make quick inroads on Valemount’s air quality problem.

Some people would be willing to pay the going rate to get good firewood, and subsidizing firewood for seniors and community members in a fix would be a really great thing.

But back to the problem of blowing half a million dollars…

If you live in McBride and are reading about this issue for the first time, you might lower your estimation of Valemountonians, and think ill of us for not being able to spend 500 large, despite the fact we’ve got about 50 non-profit groups in this community and a strong tradition of superfluous grant requests.

But the reality is we might be going at it the wrong way.

Typically the grant money has been conceived of by the applicants on a need-by-need basis. Essentially a nonprofit group makes a wish list of some equipment and chooses the top one or two items to apply for.

Each group goes through this process independently. It’s an exhausting and uncreative process.

The community ends up with a new groomer, a deep fryer, a renovated bathroom, and those are really good things, but they are not transformative.

All the groups present their projects to a committee and the public. The public casts a vote, and ultimately the committee determines which projects go forward and which are terminated.

This is an odd thing. Why leave it to an external committee to decide one project instead of another, when these groups could get together in advance and build proposals that support each other?

I have high expectations for each group, but they aren’t that much higher than the bare minimum required to apply for a grant.

You might think this group cooperation is near impossible. Well it’s not.

I was very heartened to hear the Housing Committee decide to work together to develop a vision for housing throughout the community. It’s an exciting new way for nonprofit groups to consider how they can help make the community a better place.

A higher level of cooperation and more long term planning can help us reach the main goal: getting all that gold out of the caverns under Castlegar.