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Free parking

SPOKANE -- The popular image of a city parking meter officer is someone lurking about, waiting for your meter to run down while you're away shopping, or maybe whirring around in a circus-like cart, racing a hapless motorist back to an expired meter. This holiday season, there's a difference: If you lose that race, you might drive away without a fine.

The Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and the City of Spokane have partnered to sponsor 2,000 "Courtesy Tickets" -- random get-out-of-jail-free cards for motorists whose parking meters have expired.

The idea is using "random acts of kindness," says BID Marketing Director Marla Nunberg, simultaneously to attract holiday shoppers and educate frequent parkers: "Basically, it is turning a negative experience into a positive one."

Each city meter officer is already handing out the courtesy tickets at a rate of 15 per day in November, with the number increasing to 18 daily in December. After Dec. 15 through Christmas, the rate increases to 125 courtesy tickets a day, according to Dave Shaw, Spokane's traffic control supervisor.

Parking officers shuffle the Courtesy Tickets into their ticket books. If an officer finds an expired meter and opens the ticket book to a courtesy ticket, that motorist gets away with a white-and-purple free parking note.

The tickets are for expired meters only, not for commercial loading violations or people who illegally park in disabled-only spaces.

Meter officers write an average of 5,300 to 5,500 tickets a month, not counting the ones they void if a motorist returns while one is writing a ticket. Of last year's 64,000 tickets, 1,300 were for people parking in disabled-only spaces.

Fowl money

SPOKANE -- Duck, geese and wildlife enthusiasts have reason to celebrate these days, because the Spokane County Parks and Recreation Department has received part of a $978,641 grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NOWCA).

This grant is one of only 20 awarded this year nationwide. Grant partners include Ducks Unlimited, Inc., the Friends of the Turnbull, the Audubon Society and the Bureau of Land Management, among many others.

Three of the 12 wetland sites that will benefit directly from the grant money are located on county property; the rest are state or federal lands. At the Feryn Ranch, located off Day Mount Spokane Road, $73,000 will be spent on eliminating farming on a 27-acre wetland area.

"It's been determined that 108 migratory birds use this wetland as a corridor, and 68 species use it as a nesting and breeding area," says Steve Horobiowski, a park planner for Spokane County. "If you are out there in the early morning, it sounds like you're in a tropical jungle."

The Slavin Wetlands were purchased by the county in early 2000, and grant money will go to the restoration and preservation of that area as well.

Grant money may also go toward purchasing a 100-acre scabland parcel in the Rimrock area of the West Plains.

"The restoration dollars will make it possible for us to accelerate the projects we have going in those areas," says Horobiowski. "We were very fortunate."
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