Concerns about flooding along the island portion of the Fit Team Palm Beaches Marathon route could force organizers to switch to a backup route.
A decision on whether to pull the marathon off Palm Beach’s Lake Trail is not expected until Saturday morning, an event spokesman said.
For the first time in its history, a portion of the course is scheduled to run through Palm Beach, as runners come over the Henry Flagler Bridge, proceed south on the Lake Trail, along the east bank of the lagoon, to the Royal Park Bridge and back into West Palm Beach.
But king tides are expected to result in nearly 4 feet of flooding Sunday morning along the low-lying section of the Lake Trail, Town Manager Tom Bradford said. The question is whether the flooding will occur between 6:15 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. — the one-hour window when the town is allowing the marathon into Palm Beach.
Meteorologists are not expecting this weekend’s tides to rise as high as those in October and November, but they will surpass the average swell and could cause flooding in the most vulnerable areas.
Chris Fisher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the highest tide for Palm Beach is expected Sunday at about 7 a.m.
“It won’t be what we saw a couple months ago,” Fisher said. “We’ve been fairly dry, and the winds will be gusty but not overly strong.”
Kathleen Walter, director of communications for the City of West Palm Beach, said November’s king tides weren’t high enough to cause significant flooding on Flagler and city officials don’t expect a problem this weekend.
Marathon spokesman Gary Ferman said they are watching the situation closely, and are prepared, if necessary, to alter the marathon route.
“We have been aware of the king tide situation, are monitoring it, and a decision will be made Saturday by noon,” Ferman said. “If changes are necessary we have a backup certified course.”
The town has warned event organizers that, if the marathon comes into Palm Beach and flooding becomes a problem, the runners will have to turn back, Town Manager Tom Bradford said. The only other route between the bridges is Cocoanut Row, but that would force the town to close all or a portion of that road to traffic, which Bradford said it will not do.
“We have made it clear that alternative routes will not be allowed,” Bradford said, referring to the permit granted for the race. “We will not let them to traverse over onto Cocoanut Row [to reach the Royal Park Bridge] if we find the path is flooded. Their only recourse would be to turn around.”
Bradford said he’s been in touch with Ken Kennerly, whose K2 Sports Ventures bought the race and brought in Fitteam as the name sponsor. He said Kennerly assured him he is watching the situation closely and will make a decision on Saturday.
Ferman said Kennerly was traveling and in meetings today and not immediately available to comment.
Mayor Gail Coniglio said today that, while the town is concerned for the safety of the marathon participants, the town’s residents are always her priority. “My first obligation is to the privacy and security of our residents,” she said.
The town sent out an alert today reminding residents that the Flagler Memorial Bridge will be closed from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Traffic on Flagler Drive south of Lakeview Avenue and north of Banyan Blvd. will be affected starting at 5 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
For more race information, visit thefitteampalmbeachesmarathon.com. Registration is open through Friday at $105 for the marathon, $85 for the half-marathon and $40 for the 5K. Onsite registration will be available at $120, $95 and $45 respectively.
Staff writer Kimberly Miller contributed to this report