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.”

(9) comments


RE: PainfulTruth....'environmental whackos'? Would that be like the whacky Tea Party ideas you are presenting here? Your biases display the weakness of your 'home schooling'. Here's a clue: Protecting one's home and the environment is far from ecological 'whackiness'...despite the tripe you are being fed by Fox News and the conservative movement. Perhaps you'd be in favor of flooding the neighborhood in which your singlewide sits? Maybe then the Big Islanders' situation might mean more to you.


I live in port Byron. I am a member of the conservation club, so I am familiar with the lay of the land. What gets me is the city keeps playing games with these people. Years ago there was a magical cabelas going in(though cabelas denied it had any plans). Now the city spends tax payer money buying land that they have no approval to build on. They want to move a levee and build in a flood plain. They want to send large amounts of traffic down big island parkway. There is less than 100 houses down that 2 mile stretch of road. I for one am behind the residents in saying no way!

There is not a need for more development on or near big island. Putting in some businesses won't bring more people to the casino

Not enough

Protect it. So Painful Truth in conclusion you make valid points but I wish you would spend a week in our solids and see the beauty we do.

Not enough

Yes Painful Truth we would like to protect the "swamp". We do it because we believe in having and protecting our wildlife and our future. Keeping something that has been there for years and decades may not matter to you, but to those of us who relish in those "swamps" we make clear to

Barb Ickes
Barb Ickes

Painful: Big Islanders' concerns about drinking-water quality and home values were feared consequences of a mining operation that was planned in 2004. The mining didn't happen, so it's inaccurate to suggest the fears were misplaced. They never were challenged.


The "issues" were largely ignored because they were mostly made up talking points to appose anything built on or near Big Island. They complained that their drinking water would be affected. Nope, hasn't happened. They complained that their home values would go down (like that is possible on Big Island), Nope, that hasn't happened either. Now they are complaining once again, big Doom and Gloom about more development near their precious swamp land. Once again more hype and made-up issues. Just like the environmental wackos protested the fertilizer plant in Davenport, now they have a renewed rallying cry to preserve the precious swamp land of Big Island. Too predictable from these people....


I understand that Rock Island is land-locked, but this is not the way to go about building business. Really, Jumer's is not a destination for people that live away from here. It's mostly area people, and if you want to develop the land, do something like Benton Harbor in Michigan that has played up the waterfront. Don't change it. Not everything should depend on shopping. Isn't that why America is in such a mess anyway? Everyone thinks 'shopping' is the answer.

Devin H
Devin H

These issues were raised before the casino was built, but they were largely ignored. As I fear they will be now. These folks definitely need our support. Hennepin and Big Island really are treasures for a lot of people, myself included. Good article Barb.


Before that casino was built, these issues should have been considered so it could have been placed elsewhere. We are long past the point where environment should take second place behind economic development. Cancel all the $signs and leave Milan Bottoms just the way it is.

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