Sheriff P.J. Tanner believes he has a viable new route for the proposed Hilton Head Island Ironman 70.3 triathlon, but race officials beg to differ.
Tanner's new proposal would send athletes on several laps around the island to avoid some of the traffic snarls and public-safety concerns he has with other proposed routes. The other routes would send racers along U.S. 278 over the bridges to the mainland and into greater Bluffton.
Ironman officials, however, counter that a race with several laps won't be safe for the thousands of participants crowding the course.
"I wish collectively we'd have thought about this months ago," Tanner said. "Now here we are at almost the 11th hour, so to speak, and somebody's got to make a decision."
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Tanner pitched his new idea Tuesday to leaders of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, who have been negotiating with Ironman executives to host a race here for at least the past eight months.
The current proposal would bring an Ironman 70.3 triathlon -- half a full Ironman event -- to Hilton Head each fall for five years, beginning in October 2016. The race would be on a Sunday from about 7 a.m. toearly afternoon.
The negotiations and briefings with local government officials have taken place in secret. That changed last week after one supporter posted about the race on Facebook, leading Tanner to call a news conference to explain his concerns.
Now the chamber and sheriff are negotiating their final race-route compromise in the public eye, while Ironman officials warn the "clock is ticking" to sign a deal or lose the race.
Tanner's new proposal is a drastic change from route options previously approved by Ironman.
Ironman approved routes would send racers along U.S. 278 off the island and into Bluffton during the 56-mile biking portion. Those options could limit access to gated communities, neighborhoods and business centers along the route, which Tanner argues is too risky for emergency response and public safety.
Tanner's new idea was hatched during a trip around the island on Sunday afternoon, he said.
The proposal begins with a 1.2-mile swim at the Marriott Resort & Spa in Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, which has been an undisputed part of each route.
From the Marriott, athletes would hop on their bikes and ride out to the Palmetto Dunes entrance on William Hilton Parkway, where they would take a left toward the Sea Pines traffic circle, Tanner said.
Both lanes toward the circle would be dedicated to the racers, and they would follow them to Palmetto Bay Road, along the Cross Island Parkway to the intersection of Gumtree Road and William Hilton Parkway.
Then racers would follow the parkway back to the Palmetto Dunes entrance to complete an almost exactly 14-mile lap.
Four loops clockwise on that course, and the bikers complete the 56-mile ride, Tanner said. One more loop on foot toward a finish line nearer the Shelter Cove Community Park, and the runners complete the final, 13.1-mile leg of the race, he added.
The plan would allow the Sheriff's Office to keep traffic moving on the opposite side of the roads that make up the course, sending vehicle traffic counter-clockwise around the island during the Sunday morning race, he said.
"This is absolutely the best-case scenario based on everything we've looked at," Tanner said. "It affects the least amount of people, and the least amount of businesses. This is a route I think will work, that I will support, but only if the chamber meets with those affected to make sure everyone's on board."
Chamber leaders are considering Tanner's new proposal and will pass it along to race officials, chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark said Thursday.
"Now it's up to Ironman and the chamber and the town to make a decision on whether they'll allow it or not," Tanner said. "If Ironman decides they can't do this, then it's a shame. Ironman, because of what they want, is asking a lot of citizens who live here year round and pay taxes to give up a lot."
But the proposal won't gain the support of race officials, said Steve Meckfessel, Ironman's managing director of global race operations.
"I haven't had a chance to review the most recent proposal from the sheriff, but a four-loop bike course is unsafe from a participant standpoint," Meckfessel said Thursday. "It would be similar to asking the golfers in the Heritage to play the 11th hole four times in a row. That'd be a lot of balls flying in the air at once."
Instead, Ironman officials support a plan that would send bikers along U.S. 278 into Bluffton that would include one loop between Windmill Harbour and Moss Creek to reach the full 56 miles, he said. Ironman officials say that route would include a dedicated lane for emergency vehicles to access gated communities and other areas.
Chamber and local government officials say the proposed five-year race agreement would bring in thousands of participants and about $10 million a year to the local economy.
Ironman leaders will continue to try to negotiate a route that's safe for participants, Meckfessel said.
But with the sheriff's concerns about the other route proposals and growing tensions between him and local leaders, it's unclear whether a compromise that could break the stalemate is looming.
- 'Clock is ticking' to seal deal for Hilton Head Ironman, race leader says , May 22, 2015
- Long-secret Hilton Head Ironman plans come to light as race route divides leaders, sheriff + survey , May 21, 2015
- Hilton Head Ironman supporters urge sheriff to drop objections to race route , May 19, 2015
- Ironman triathlon won't be coming to Hilton Head , Aug. 15, 2013