The Bottom Line up front
The changes proposed were as follows:
Distance: Half marathon only (eliminate the full marathon distance for 2017)
Date: Nov 2017 (28% less out of town visitors/traffic)
Start Time: 0545 (start of civil twilight, 15 min earlier than 2016)
Course Cut-off: 0915 (3 ½ hours)
-Have more personnel picking up traffic devices to re-open the course to traffic quicker.
-Have a course official pull runners from the course who are not off the course at 0915.
-Have more signs and notices warning of the road closure up 7 days prior to the event.
These changes would have the race at a time when traffic was already greatly reduced, give more warning to residents, and have the road clear by 10am, the time when we started to see significant traffic delays in 2016. These changes would nearly eliminate all the traffic concerns of citizens and the Sheriff. As I have stated since the beginning of our crowdfunding campaign over a year ago, I am not willing to compromise on the quality or safety of our event.
We feel the Sheriff is setting a dangerous precedence by arbitrarily shutting down a safe and successful event and his actions are encouraging other Sheriff's across the nation to shut down running events. Should this be allowed to happen, no running event anywhere- no matter how established or problem free- is safe.
Several of our runner wrote very well thought out emails to the Sheriff, the Destin City Council and our County Comissioners. I wish I could share several of them I received as they may make the argument for the marathon even better than I can. These letters prompted the Destin City Council to ask me to speak at one of their regular meetings. At this meeting I outlined the positive economic impact of the event (see prior blog) and the changes we had made to lessen the impact to traffic. The Destin City Council, which pays millions of dollars a year to the Sheriff's Department, voted to ask the Sheriff to reconsider his denial of our permit and as of this writing there has been no response. Unfortunately, not the City Council nor any other body has the ability to direct the Sheriff to do anything. That is completely up to the voters this August.
2) Public Safety is not an issue. There were no traffic or pedestrian incidents during our 2016 event, despite the large amount of traffic. Not only does our new proposal nearly eliminate any traffic delays, if an emergency vehicle needs to use that road I am positive that the runners in the closed lanes would yield to that vehicle and allow it to pass. If the Sheriff cannot insure public safety for a few hours on a Sunday morning, with months of detailed planning, I have serious concerns for our safely should he ever have to deal with an actual emergency of any magnitude.
3) There are several dozen local events that partially close 98 or other major roads in our area. We feel that each event should be judged on their own merits (does the positive impact out weight any negative impact). This judgement should be made by boards of elected officials such as our County Commissioners and the city councils. As the process now stands, we cannot even put a permit request before these boards without the approval of the Sheriff's Office. As the Sheriff's Office plays an important safety role in these events, we would like to see an unbiased safety report from them accompany the permits to the board, but one office should not be the single judge and jury for every event's approval. As it stands now, there is one person deciding that the positive impact of our event this year, and the positive potential for this event in the future, does not justify the partial closing of a road. Any increased tourism, or events of this nature, causes the Sheriff's Office more work without benefiting his department, which obviously creates a conflict of interest. This year, the Sheriff's Office proved that our event, even without the drastic changes we proposed for 2017, could be staffed and carried out by the Sheriff's Office safely on Hwy 98 for motorists, the runners, and the public. Simply stated, the permit process needs updated to put the power in the hands of the boards we elected to represent us with input from the supporting departments.
4) According to race experts, the Destin Marathon could easily grow to well over 5,000 people in the next few years. What’s important to understand is that the increase in participants won’t cause the course to stay open any longer. This is often misunderstood by local officials. All Marathons have a cutoff time and a race with 1,500 participants can easily grow to 5,000 people with no additional impact to traffic. The benefits that our community will derive from the race over the next 10 years will be significant. Once local residents understand the long term positive effects, they will also be more supportive.
5) We have looked at dozens of other potential routes over the past months (and years). Unfortunately we are not able to construct a route that would be closed to traffic, only use 28 officers (the limit set by the Sheriff), have a start/finish with access to 2,000 parking spots, and be run in a area that will attract out of town visitors. The reality is that we ran a route that met all these criteria in 2016, we ran it extremely safely, and we improved it for our 2017 application.
What can you do?
2) If you are an Okaloosa County resident, you can vote in the August Sheriff's election. If you are not a resident you can still contribute financially to the canidate you feel best represents your interests. In addition to current Sheriff, the other candidate is Brian Cokonougher. On Mr. Cokonougher's Facebook page he has responded to some of our runners, "I don't believe that there would be a major issue with the race as it is now proposed to run during the very early morning hours on a weekend during November. The race officials seem willing to pay for extra deputies and have agreed to insure the race is concluded by a set time... I believe the race can be done and everyone be satisfied with only minor inconvenience to the motoring public." -Brian Cokonougher
3) You are always welcome to come join us for some of our other great running events, including Run the Oasis (marathons and half marathons), the Destin Beach Ultra Runs, the Son of a Beach 5K. Or enjoy personalized coaching at one of our worldwide running camps.
We all have fought the good fight and I know those of us at the Destin Marathon have poured every ounce of our being (and sanity) into attempting to make this race happen in 2017. It appears we have lost this battle, but we will live to fight another day. As always, we will keep you up to date if anything changes, but for now it looks like there will not be a repeat of the amazing event we had with the 2016 Kill Cliff Destin Marathon in 2017. Thank you so much for all your support before, during and after the event. The running community is truly amazing!