Rock Island city leaders see dollar signs in their proposed retail development on Big Island, but some members of an outdoor club that resides on the island see environmental disaster.
Members of the Rock Island Conservation Club are sending letters to Rock Island officials, announcing their opposition to the Jumer’s Crossing development near the interchange at Interstate 280 and Illinois 92.
“Economic growth is not economic growth when it means economic destruction,” club member and Rock Island resident Sue Pienta recently told members of the Rock Island City Council. “Has no one learned from the floods that you don’t mess with the levee? You don’t cut it, you don’t move it, and you don’t punch holes through it.”
But the city’s development plans are contingent on changes to the levee system on Big Island. The flood-control system is owned, operated and maintained by two sponsors: the village of Milan and the Big Island Conservancy District.
Steve Siever, city manager for Milan, said the proposed modifications are precedent-setting in their scope.
In a recent letter to the Rock Island District of the Corps of Engineers, officials from Milan and the Conservancy said they do not intend to consider the city’s plans until a complete application is submitted.
Despite the fact that Rock Island has not been given a go-ahead to change the lay of the land on Big Island, the city paid $1 million Friday for 90 acres.
Pienta said the city is spending taxpayers’ money prematurely, given the absence of approval for the levee modifications but also because of undetermined environmental concerns.
Rock Island City Manager Thomas Thomas, who has been guiding the development plans for Big Island, said Wednesday that he looks forward to meeting with the Pienta and other members of the Conservation Club to talk about their concerns and to explain details about Jumer’s Crossing.
Thomas and other city officials have been eager to capitalize on the economic success of Jumer’s Casino and Hotel. They are trying to create a “destination” for gamblers, giving them nearby places to shop and eat while bolstering the city’s sales-tax base.
Meanwhile, a local group called River Bend Wildland Trust is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources and an array of biologists from across the state to put on a 24-hour investigation of the nearby Milan Bottoms for a “bio blitz.”
The Milan Bottoms is a federally protected 3,400-acre wetland/timber preserve that occupies land just across Interstate 280 from Big Island.
Marilyn Andress, of the River Bend Wildland Trust, said two recent discoveries prompted the upcoming survey of species and ecosystems at the Bottoms.
Last summer, a DNR study on Mill Creek in Rock Island revealed the presence of a state-threatened species, killi fish, she said. And a yellow-bellied water snake, also endangered, was discovered as roadkill on Illinois 92.
“If we did find endangered species in the bio blitz, it could have an effect on the development,” Andress said.
She added, however, that members of the environmental group do not get involved in quarrels over land development. Instead, she said, they simply “applaud” groups, such as members of the Rock Island Conservation Club, for looking out for natural resources.
But Pienta, whose husband, Jay Pienta, is president of the club, said she thinks the environment on and around Big Island will speak largely for itself.
In addition to the possibility that endangered species are living at Milan Bottoms, the area also is recognized as one of the largest in the country for wintering-over by North American bald eagles.
“Think about the lights, noise and traffic that would come out of a giant retail development,” she said. “Plus, this is a floodplain they’re talking about building on. The runoff from raising the elevation has to go somewhere.
“We could have a Conservation Club that has nothing but water. What will we do with everybody who comes out here? We have the local Turkey Federation, Women in the Outdoors, Boy Scouts, Extreme Biologists, Moline Bass Club and gun-hunter safety courses and fishing tournaments that all depend on our club.”