Rockford airport expansion project on Bell Powl Prairie temporarily on hold

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 5:04 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - The Bell Bowl Prairie will remain as is for the time being, as the Chicago Rockford International Airport suspends plans to expand the airport on the rare prairie land.

This comes as environmentalists have rallied to save the Bell Bowl Prairie. Advocates say the construction work threatens a small patch of prairie on RFD’s grounds which is home to endangered bee species and rare plants.

Additionally, construction that was previously on hold until November 1 will be suspended within the Bell Bowl Prairie until Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) consultation activities with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) are concluded.

Airport officials say the project will move forward with redesigning a portion of the expansion plan that could potentially save the prairie but that’s not guaranteed.

In consultation with the FAA and USFWS, the capacity of the planned Bell Bowl Prairie detention basin will be replaced by other planned basins on RFD grounds.

“During the coming months, we will continue to work with the FAA, IDNR, and the USFWS to ensure the project continues and we can plan and develop in compliance with the Federal and state regulations for the endangered species,” said Zack Oakley, the Deputy Director of Operations and Planning at RFD. “The FAA is reinitiating consultation under the Endangered Species Act with the USFWS to evaluate impacts to the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, so planned construction initially scheduled to continue on November 1 will be suspended until further consultation is completed. We anticipate the resumption of the project in the spring of 2022.”

The $50 million airport expansion project is expected to create hundreds of construction jobs, and generate 600 permanent jobs at the airport.

“I applaud the decision by the Rockford Airport Board of Directors to temporarily pause construction on its expansion. I now urge the board to have meaningful dialogue with all parties that takes into account the area’s natural resources, as well as the economic impact of the expansion,” Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says.

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