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Local conservation group files lawsuit to temporarily stall construction at Bell Bowl Prairie

Natural Land Institute Announces Legal Challenge to Airport Extension
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
Natural Land Institute Announces Legal Challenge to Airport Extension

An Illinois conservation group is taking legal action to protect the Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford.

The move by the Natural Land Institute comes just under a week before the Chicago Rockford International Airport Authority is slated to begin construction over some of the last remaining prairie in Illinois. The group filed a lawsuit this week to temporarily halt development over the Bell Bowl Prairie. Kerry Leigh with the organization says taking the issue to court comes after silence and lack of meaningful response from local officials and state lawmakers.

“We are here with grief in our hearts, to file a lawsuit for injunctive relief to stop the bulldozers from destroying in an instant, what took 8000 years to create,” said Leigh. “And for additional environmental assessment of this precious and unique prairie that provides life to threatened and endangered species.”

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is slated to begin the process of relocating rare species of plants found in a portion of the prairie, including the Prairie Gentian and the Prickly Pear Cactus, tomorrow. Leigh says she’s already confirmed that IDNR will hold off on the relocation process should a temporary restraining order be issued today.

The Airport Authority recently canceled two public meetings leading up to the November 1st construction date. A spokesperson says there are times when there is not sufficient resolutions to warrant a meeting. Jennifer Kuroda with the Sinnissippi Audubon Society says she’s not surprised by the Airport Authority’s response.

“It sounds like they didn't want to have to face us again,” said Kuroda. “And I would think with all of the calls, all of the emails and everything else they're receiving that would warrant a meeting. They should address the public who has so many questions about what's going on out there.”

Juanpablo covers environmental, substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.