Austria money well spent

Let’s see what Clearwater councilor Bert Walker can do with the money we spent sending him to Austria before we jump to too many conclusions

You’ve got to spend money to make money.

Clearwater councilor Bert Walker has come under criticism lately for taking a trip at taxpayers’ expense to Austria. He went there to investigate the possibilities for using waste wood for heating buildings and even whole neighborhoods.

It should have been an engineer rather than a politician who was sent, some critics have said. Another criticism has been that similar information is available in B.C.

As shown by the article on page A9, Walker came back from Austria full of possible ideas for using wood heat technology.

Engineers are very good at converting a vision into reality. They aren’t necessarily good at developing that vision in the first place.

Walker was the only elected official at the workshop. He says the organizers told him they wish there had been more.

Several of those there were facilities managers – a job Walker did for many years with the former School District 26 (North Thompson).

Walker has a proven track record for his ability to pull together disparate pieces of information and make them into a coherent package.

One example would be the forest fuel management program. Over the past two winters it has pumped $2.5 million into the local economy, providing work at a critical time for many.

Although he gives a lot of credit to Clearwater corporate administrator Leslie Groulx and forest consultant Wes Bieber, the local councilor was the program’s instigator and pushed to get it expanded from the original target of $250,000.

Much of the information and many of the contacts he used to get the program started came from his participating in the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conventions.

Cost of sending someone to UBCM, including travel and hotels, is about $2,000 – not a lot less than the $3,500 council spent sending Walker to Austria.

Is the same wood heat information available in B.C.? Probably, but much of the provincial knowledge is based on the European experience. Why get it secondhand when the original can be obtained for much the same cost?

Growing $2,000 into $2.5 million isn’t a bad return on an investment. Let’s see what Walker can do with the money we spent sending him to Austria before we jump to too many conclusions.