Proposed plan could benefit RFD expansion, Bell Bowl preservation

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 7:12 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Saving the Bell Bowl Prairie and a planned expansion at the Chicago Rockford International Airport may both go forward according to a recent study.

RFD wants to add an air cargo facility to its property, but that expansion worries environmental advocates who say it could destroy the Bell Bowl Prairie, one of only a few left in the state.

Two consultants from Geosyntec say they have a solution: move a planned cargo facility to another part of the airport property and include a road that goes around the prairie. The airport believes its plan is the best option.

“We understand that the airport has said that they need this expansion,” says Bell Bowl advocate Amy Doll. “The action that they have chosen, seems to ignore the fact that there are alternatives that would spare the prairie.”

RFD’s plans would include a road directly through the prairie but would leave several acres as is. Environmental experts say it would ruin biodiversity.

“Part of what makes this prairie work is that this prairie is it’s not just the plants that you see, but it’s the entire ecosystem.”

Advocates insist they don’t oppose the expansion, just where it would be located.

“This 14 acres isn’t very much a prairie. It’s already a fragmented or a smaller piece and to fragment it further is even more detrimental.”

23 news reached out to the airport which wouldn’t comment on this latest proposal.

“They’ve simply put up a wall and haven’t been able to just have a dialogue, a public dialogue with advocates and the citizens about why they are choosing this option.”

The airport’s proposed plan in 2019 combined road construction with an area used to treat water runoff.

Geosyntec consultants took several factors into consideration: minimizing the impact on the prairie, the potential for RFD to expand and accounting for the potential for each design to cause crashes over the next 20 years.

They also used safety recommendations from the Illinois Department of Transportation Bureau of Local Roads and Streets (IDOT BLRS), which include how much of a curve the road should have in relation to a city’s standard speed limit.

Here is a list of the project design alternatives:

Alternative 1: Based on the 2019 proposal by RFD, would combine road and building construction with an impact on one area of the prairie that deals with water runoff. This plan would save 2.4 acres of the prairie. In terms of road safety,

Alternative 2: Features a road directly through the middle of the prairie and it would leave around 6.2 acres left of Bell Bowl (RFD recommends this plan).

Alternative 3: Moves the air cargo facility and parking space to the west side of the airport. This would preserve the largest amount of the prairie (11.8 acres), though this alternative won’t support the 1 million square foot building RFD wants to build.

Alternative 4/5: reroute the roadway to the east or south of the airport. This would retain 6.7 acres of the prairie, but it doesn’t meet the IDOT BLRS safety recommendations (consultants think this is the best solution if you can combine alternatives and overcome the design limitations up to IDOT standards).

Alternative 6: Avoiding direct impact to the prairie by bridging the prairie.

No Action: RFD would not add an air cargo facility to its property.