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Deal halts Rockford airport's work that threatens prairie and bumble bees

With construction scheduled to resume Nov. 1, the non-profit conservation group that cares for the Bell Bowl Prairie struck a deal to temporarily halt bulldozers ready to expand Rockford Airport.
Deal halts Rockford airport's work that threatens prairie and bumble bees
A photo of the endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. | Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — A conservation group has reached an agreement with a northern Illinois airport that temporarily halts work on a project that would destroy an 8,000-year-old tract of remnant prairie.

The Bell Bowl Prairie, located on the Rockford Airport's property, is targeted for demolition as part of a $50 million expansion of the airfield's cargo operations.

The prairie's long-time stewards, the Natural Land Institute, sued the Greater Rockford Airport Authority this week, seeking injunctive relief to temporarily halt bulldozers from destroying the 25-acre (10.1-hectare) prairie and the habitat of the endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.

The nonprofit conservation group announced Thursday that a deal putting that work on hold through March 1, 2022, had been reached through U.S. District Court with the Greater Rockford Airport Authority, its board of commissioners and executive director, WTTW-TV reported.[1]

Construction of an access road that would cut through the prairie's highest quality habitat had been slated to resume Nov. 1.

The temporary hold buys more time for the Natural Land Institute to convince the Airport Authority to explore alternative design concepts that protect the prairie and the endangered rusty patched bumble bee, the institute said in a statement. It says the new deadline is not enough time to determine if the bee is nesting on the prairie, which must be done in the summer.

"Natural Land Institute will continue to pursue legal remedies to protect the remaining prairie and make sure we have access to monitor the prairie," the organization said its statement.

Airport officials, meanwhile, said they are redesigning a portion of the expansion project, removing a retention basin slated to be built within the Bell Bowl Prairie's footprint.

The airport's cargo expansion is expected to create hundreds of construction jobs and up to 600 permanent new airport jobs in Rockford, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.

Notes & References

  1. “Bell Bowl Prairie Reprieve, Rockford Airport Temporarily Pauses Construction.” WTTW News. Accessed October 30, 2021. https://news.wttw.com/2021/10/28/bell-bowl-prairie-reprieve-rockford-airport-temporarily-pauses-construction. ↩︎