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The future of the Ben Burr Trail and Riverfront Park; plus, who's getting a tax subsidy?

Roadblocks

With nearly $2 million in federal grant money waiting to be spent, city engineers and neighborhood activists are clashing over a trail renovation project in East Central.

The Ben Burr Trail, built on a historic railroad line between Liberty Park and Underhill Park, is currently a narrow, unpaved trail used mostly by pedestrians. In hopes of improving it as a connection between the South Hill and the Centennial Trail, the city has secured $1.7 million in federal grants and local tax dollars. But the federal grants come with requirements that the trail be paved and 10 to 12 feet wide with shoulders so it's accessible for cyclists and Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant. Not everyone is on board.

"It would basically be putting another freeway through the neighborhood, only it's a freeway for bicycles," says Jerry Numbers, chair of the East Central Neighborhood Council. "It just hit us blindsided."

But Jan Quintrall, director of Business and Developer Services at the city, says her department has worked with the neighborhood for five years on planning for the project and thought everyone was on the same page. Now, she says, the department will go back to grant funders and see if they can get an exception to build portions of the trail narrower than 10 feet and meet with "benefited neighborhoods" like those on the South Hill to get more input. — HEIDI GROOVER

You get a subsidy!

About 130,000 people in Idaho and 272,000 people in Washington are eligible for tax subsidies to help pay for private insurance plans purchased through the new health insurance exchanges, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Of the 29 million people who are potential customers for the exchanges, including those who are uninsured and those who buy non-group coverage, the study found that 17 million people nationally — almost 60 percent of them — can apply for tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.

A key component of President Obama's signature health reform law, the federal tax subsidies are designed to help low- and moderate-income people reduce the costs of their premiums. To qualify, people must earn between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,490-$45,960 for an individual; $23,550-$94,200 for a family of four).

Two weeks ago, exchange officials in Washington state discovered that 8,000 people received incorrect tax credit amounts due to a "system error" affecting the state-run exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. So far, more than 55,000 Washington residents have enrolled in health insurance through the state exchange since Oct. 1. — DEANNA PAN

On the Riverfront

In Coeur d'Alene, the updating of an iconic park spurred community outrage, sparked a recall effort and defined multiple elections. Now Spokane is preparing to update its own iconic park. A committee, including Inlander Publisher Ted McGregor, has spent months discussing plans to revamp Riverfront Park.

In particular, the committee has been focusing on Havermale Island, where old, unprofitable rides, a sparsely attended IMAX theater and a seasonal ice-skating rink reside underneath a webbed pavilion.

"Havermale Island has been a tough one, because we've felt like the park has struggled to do year-round attractions on the island," McGregor says. He says the committee has considered turning the pavilion into a flexible seasonal event center that could hold concerts, plays, award ceremonies and host Hoopfest's center court.

The committee has suggested moving the skating rink and aging rides away from the pavilion, adding an amphitheater and creating a new gateway off Washington Street. They've looked at possibly installing a skatepark, a new iconic ride and a climbing gym. But the committee is also considering more controversial recommendations, like moving the carrousel or shutting down the IMAX permanently.

While the committee has discussed floating a bond, it's also looking at other funding options, like asking voters for permission to sell excess park properties. — DANIEL WALTERS

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