Of the 45 Big Island homeowners being asked to chip in on a new road for the casino-related Jumer's Crossing development, every one of them objects.
Rock Island City Manager Thomas Thomas said the city has not verified the signatures on the special-assessment letters, stating the residents' objections, but several homeowners said there should be no doubt. Those who have spoken out against Jumer's Crossing, a $55 million retail and residential development, said they fear the changes to the levee that protects their homes will spell disaster.
Because of their fears and distrust over the proposed changes to the levee, residents say, they will not support any aspect of the development.
After a recent project assessment, it was determined that 45 homeowners should each pay $50 for the benefit they will get out of the project. The benefit is a second entrance to Big Island, which would be the entrance to Jumer's Crossing off Route 92, near Interstate 280. The estimated cost of infrastructure for the new roadway, including relocation of a 300-foot section of levee, is $4.4 million.
"It's only $50," said Sue Pienta, whose husband, Jay, is president of the Rock Island Conservation Club on Big Island. "The assessment isn't much, but people don't want to pay anything for something they don't want. They don't have permission to take that levee, so why are we even talking about roads?
"We've heard they're not going to get the OK to move the levee, so I don't know why they're spending all this money on plans."
The decision on whether to allow the change in the Big Island levee system is up to the village of Milan and the Big Island Conservancy District, which are responsible for maintaining the elaborate flood-control system.
The city of Rock Island and village of Milan have been at odds over a Big Island development in the past. A dispute over whether to permit mining on the island ultimately was settled by a judge in 2004, who ruled the village and the conservancy are in charge.
Many residents, and some Milan officials, now say the city is again trying to challenge the two groups' authority and have their sights too recklessly set on altering a large portion of the levee.
"The fear we have here is, they want to remove a 300-foot piece of a levee that protects our homes," resident Charles Van De Sampel Jr. said Friday. "If they don't do it right, the thing will fail."
He said he moved to Big Island four years ago from a Rock Island neighborhood near Augustana College.
"I call this place nirvana," he said of the island. "It's paradise. I cannot believe the city would risk destroying it."
Van De Sampel said he has been researching levee systems and has learned they operate in a delicate balance and any disturbances can — and have — led to breaches and, ultimately, whole-system failures.
"The city has been told by the courts that levee doesn't belong to them," he said. "They don't get it. The way they talked at the meeting (last Thursday, regarding the new assessments), it's a done deal with the levee. They're just waiting for us to cave in and say, 'Take it.' That's not going to happen."
The infrastructure plans the city laid out at Thursday's meeting lack considerable detail, but Thomas said city officials intend to continue to move forward with their plans, at least on paper, pending a decision on their levee-modification plan.
"It's part of being prepared," he said Friday. "In the event we come to an agreement, why spend a couple months going through this process? It's all part of having our ducks in a row."