Local government infighting and a communication breakdown threaten to torpedo completion of the Centennial Trail.
At issue is a pre-approved $1.1 million federal grant administered by the Idaho Transportation Department.
To get it, Kootenai County, a trail foundation and the cities of Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls need to put up $70,000 each in matching funds.
Yet, while the grant was awarded with that condition in early 1994, both cities were caught off-guard by an approaching deadline. Neither has budgeted a dime for its share.
And as the clock ticks down, officials are squabbling about whether it’s even a fair amount for each governing body to pay.
If government leaders don’t work out their differences soon, any plans to finish the 3.5-mile stretch between Atlas Road and state Highway 41 will be “a dead deal,” said County Commissioner Bob Macdonald.
The grant expires Sept. 30 - the end of the federal government’s fiscal year - but the state needs the money by mid-July.
Re-applying for the grant next year appears out of the question.
“There are rumors around that those federal funds will disappear in 1997,” said Brendan LeBlanc, a Transportation Department designer overseeing the project. “There’s nothing official yet, but that’s one place the federal government’s talking about cutting.”
The 63-mile trail from Spokane’s Riverfront Park to Higgens Point along Lake Coeur d’Alene has been in the works since 1986. Once complete, Idaho’s section will span 23 miles and cost $4 million.
The grant for the remaining section was awarded in 1994 to the Centennial Trail Foundation - a committee of community leaders from Kootenai County’s population centers.
Committee members believed it was clear the local governments and the foundation each would contribute 25 percent of the required $274,000 match. The foundation and the county have their money set aside.
City leaders don’t recall any agreement.
“I’d like to know where the city obligated itself,” said Post Falls Administrator John Hendrickson, who said he scoured meeting minutes. “I can’t figure it out.”
Doug Eastwood, a foundation member and Coeur d’Alene’s city park’s superintendent, said his city just made a logistical error.
“Where we fell down was we didn’t pursue securing the money,” he said. “There was an assumption that the funds were set aside but no city council action was ever taken.”
Finding an unspoken-for $70,000 is no easy feat, both mayors said Wednesday during a last-minute meeting to seek a solution.
“It’s going to be tougher now than ever before because we’ve really pared our budget down,” said Coeur d’Alene Mayor Al Hassell.
That’s only part of the problem.
Post Falls Mayor Jim Hammond said his city is out $122,000 for trail easements it bought years ago thinking the county would share the costs. The county didn’t.
Now Post Falls council members want the county to swap some land to recoup those losses, Hammond said.
County commissioners agreed to look for a swap, but a final issue remains.
Because Post Falls has fewer people than Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County, residents there would be paying more per capita, Hammond said Wednesday. He pointed to Hassell.
“For every dollar he puts in, I’m supposed to put in two and a quarter,” Hammond said. “How do I explain that to the people of Post Falls?” Commissioner Dick Panabaker argued Worley and Harrison residents will pay, although they might never use the trail. It’s 30 miles away.
“But it goes right through Post Falls,” Panabaker said.
Hammond and Hassell agreed Wednesday to ask council members to cough up the dough at their next meetings - both on June 18.
Until then the future is murky for the 12-foot-wide bicycle, walking and in-line skating path.
“We need commitments soon,” Macdonald said. “We’ll either make or break this deal in 30 days.”
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