RFD continues its expansion project on one of Illinois’ few remaining prairies

Some people think of Illinois as the Prairie State, but an expansion at Rockford airport invades one of the state’s last remaining prairies.
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 6:12 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Construction is underway at the Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) as it prepares to expand, but some think the airport forgot a key component.

One resident says RFD didn’t mention part of the construction will go into Bell Bowl Prairie, one of the last remaining prairies in the state. This 25-acre piece of land is the home and feeding grounds for several endangered species like the black-billed cuckoo and loggerhead shrike.

“I don’t think the average person driving by the area of the airport would know that that was a special piece of property,” Jennifer Kuroda with the Sinnissippi Audobon Society says.

The expansion includes several projects such as a $50 million cargo center, which includes a new ramp for plane parking and a new road.

Construction did pause, but a spokesperson for the airport says it’s because of an encounter with the belted bumblebee. She says RFD never received a cease order to stop the work.

“The airport was asked if the airport would be willing to pause the construction portion of the new road that passes through this area until foraging season is over. The airport is moving ahead with the construction of the new road both north and south of this area. We anticipate that the final portion of construction through this area will be completed after October 10th.”

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources also provided a statement:

“On Aug. 8, 2021, the state and federally listed endangered Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee was identified within the Bell Bowl Prairie Illinois Natural Areas Inventory site at the airport. To avoid impacts to the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, the IDNR recommended any work that disturbs the ground or may remove flowering plants be done between November 1 and April 1 to prevent impacts to foraging bees. The IDNR also advised that coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be necessary for this species and is separate from state regulations due to its federal status.”

Kerry Leigh with the Natural Land Institute says she hopes to cooperate with airport officials on a plan to benefit both sides.

“I’m just hoping that this is going to be an ongoing process where you’re looking forward to having a site meeting, and just see what comes up,” Leigh says.

In 2019, RFD was named the Fastest-Growing Cargo Airport in the world by Airports Council International.

There is a Facebook group organized to keep people informed about the process and have a place to discuss concerns and ask questions.

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