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Further progress on this issue (or lack there of): ;-)
I reset the Contribute admin access of the site and removed all publishers in the process (did this by deleting the contribute.xml file in the _mm folder at the root level of the site as suggested in a knowledgebase doc).
This seems to have enabled my access to the pages set for Contribute editing (I no longer get the "access denied" warning). However, it did NOT remedy the problem of the repeating rows that cannot be created or deleted (clicking the "+" or "-" mini buttons simply moves the selection of text within the rows, while no new rows can be created). Also, I cannot create new pages from text links within these repeating rows.
I stress that all of this was working fine until a single text block (which is outside the editable regions) was modified within the templates. I'm not saying for sure this caused the problem, though it WAS the last change made before the problem began.
I was finally able to solve this problem in an ugly and tedious manner: I had to do three steps:
1) The Quick: Cancel all of the user accounts by deleting the contribute.xml file in the _mm folder at the site's root level. This causes Contribute to create a new empty file and therefore reset the passkey users as well as admins (I think).
2) The Tedious: Start from scratch with the template page AND recreate the HTML page from the new template with all of its content. So, I took the overall design page with the appropriate editable regions, created a new template page and added my repeating table, then saved as a HTML file. Lastly, I took the content from the old page and added it in one repeating row at a time by using the "+" button to manually add rows.
I tried to copy the repeating table code en masse from the non-working original and simply pasted it in to the editable area where the supposedly identical repeating table code would go. After all, I didn't change anything about the repeating table. However, I found this caused problems. i chose to take the extra time to re-build the repeating table one row at a time to be sure there was nothing odd being introduced.
3) The not-so-bad-but-still-time-consuming: Re-create the admin and various publisher passkeys from scratch and send them out.