Editor's note: This article has been updated.
Given the number of people complaining about it, Rock Island County officials could have done a better job getting word out about a 24-bed residential drug and alcohol rehab center being proposed for private property in a rural part of Milan.
Summary: The executive director of a high-end substance-abuse treatment center in Canada wants to invest back home. Mark Sadler, a Moline High School graduate, wants to buy a very large home on 312 acres and duplicate his Top of the World Ranch Treatment Centre in Fort Steele, British Columbia.
The pictures on Top of the World's website show a beautiful, expansive and expensive-looking facility that makes use of the natural surroundings in its treatment programs. Plans at the Milan property call for a partnership with Robert Young Mental Health Center. Those seeking treatment would pay a reported $30,000 for a 40-day stay.
The ranch in Canada "... has designed what we understand to be the most balanced, congruent and highly effective addictions treatment program that is available anywhere in a safe, very private, contained setting, that's own incredible natural beauty has been enhanced with purpose, to create an experience that is available nowhere else at any price," according to the website. "... and one that is designed to gain a strong foothold in sobriety, into recovery from alcohol addiction, recovery from drug addiction, and recovery from other behavioral and process addictions."
For one thing, no one can argue with the fact the Quad-Cities, our two states and the entire country are hopelessly short on effective drug-treatment options. The number of U.S. veterans fighting opioid dependency are doing for drug addiction what Betty Ford did for alcoholism — proving none of us is immune, and facing it is the answer.
But not everyone has been listening. Some of the people living near and not-so-near the Milan property remain convinced that addicts are no good. They are to be loathed, feared and distrusted. The objections were so robust, the county has tabled a request to rezone the property to accommodate the center.
To be fair, some of those raising objections are well-meaning parents who simply want more information. The gravel country roads in the area are narrow and can be dicey in bad weather. They want to be sure the infrastructure out there can support the increase in traffic that will result from the development.
"It's a major development," neighbor Jennifer Buckwalter said. "Safety is a concern. There are no street lights or signs or shoulders on the road, and we're looking at higher traffic volume."
Buckwalter said her family of four recently built on nearby land they have long owned, adding that a family of six built down the road.
"A lot of people are building houses out here," she said.
In other words, it's OK for "a lot of people" to build in the area and increase traffic, but it's not OK for the workers at the treatment facility to use the roads.
"Our concerns are that they're going to come out here and build," she continued. "They admit it's for-profit. They're not going to do criminal background checks, though. We don't know what's going on, and that's the beef. The main point is: We're ill-informed."
It might be the county's obligation to inform residents of plans to improve infrastructure amidst concerns of accommodating a new development. But it's up to the residents to educate themselves on their new neighbors. In this day of Google, it takes roughly five minutes to get a pretty thorough picture of the people involved here.
When I drove out Wednesday to get a feel for the area, a locked-gate property listed for $3.6 million.
I called Dick Quigg, Rural Township assessor, to see if he had a copy of the proposed plans for the center. When he called back, he told me how the neighbors are afraid of a lot of bad things happening when "those people" come to Milan, seeking to get sober. I told him that I do not think the people in treatment at Top of the World are criminals.
"Maybe not," he replied. "I think the local people might think they could be."
And this comment was written on a local news site: "I'm a neighbor to this proposed compound. They say they are going to let them hike the three hundred acres. They are going there to fight a 100% addiction and get away from drugs. You think a chintzy fence from 80 yrs ago in the woods is going to stop a male heroin addict? There is a school 10 minutes walking distance."
So, this commenter figures this beautiful, professional treatment center that saves people's lives would be a "compound" where paying adult customers should not be permitted to leave the grounds, because they cannot be trusted not to jump the fence and hoof it to the nearby school for what? Booze? Heroin? Cocaine?
The proposal here is not for a prison halfway house. It is not reserved for criminals, ordered into treatment by the courts. Five minutes of reading should put many concerns to rest. In fact, it should change attitudes entirely.
Here's a better way to look at it: We'll take the property taxes. We'll take the jobs. And we'll definitely take the help.