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Environmental group says Rockford Airport fell short of prairie preservation plans

Outside of the Bell Bowl Prairie
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
Outside of the Bell Bowl Prairie

The Chicago Rockford International Airport has delayed until spring construction work that threatened one of Illinois’ last remnants of original prairie. But an environmental advocacy group suing the Greater Rockford Airport Authority over the work says officials haven’t followed through on promises to federal officials to preserve the Bell Bowl Prairie.

The airport says it followed federal and state guidelines to gain approval for its $50 million expansion plan. But an Environmental Assessment, or EA for short, that it submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration in 2019 included several statements and commitments that haven’t come to fruition.

Kerry Leigh with the Natural Land Institute said the Airport Authority should take the plan back to the drawing board.

“There was a lot of misinformation in the EA,” said Leigh. “Which is one of the reasons that we're proceeding with a lawsuit, is we feel that the EA needs to be completely redone.”

In the paperwork, the Airport Authority incorrectly stated that the Bell Bowl Prairie was removed from The Illinois Natural Area Inventory registry and to “enter into an agreement with the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County to support the preservation of natural areas.”

Michael Holan, the executive director at the Forest Preserve of Winnebago County confirmed that the Airport never reached out in the two years since the paperwork was filed to manage any areas on the airport’s property.

“Several airports worked through the Department of Natural Resources or land management agencies to help control wildlife populations," Holan said in a emailed statement to WNIJ. "We have no such agreement, though, with the [Rockford] airport and typically would not manage a small property such as the Bell Bowl Prairie. That would be better suited for an agency like the Natural Land Institute (NLI).”

A spokesperson for the airport says they don’t have additional information to share on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Natural Land Institute will host a virtual call this week to update the community on the latest developments in the lawsuit.