The battle to save the former Bell Bowl Meadow in Rockford – home to the endangered Rusty Bumblebee – has included everything from foot-long cutouts of yellow and black bees stuck to the door of Gold’s mansion Coast of Governor JB Pritzker at federal trial.
Henceforth, ecologists, organized under the banner Save Bell Bowl Prairiemake an offer they hope their opponents can’t refuse.
They want Chicago Rockford International Airport, which plans to drive a road through the heart of the prairie, to redesign a $50 million expansion project, relocating the road and preserving a high-quality supply ground for the prominent bumblebee.
The airport should benefit, say environmentalists, because the Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois agreed to support a redesign payment claim with federal appropriations funds. But federal money isn’t guaranteed, according to Kerry Leigh, environmental coalition leader and executive director of the Natural Land Institute. And the airport should apply.
Still, she says, the upside potential is exciting.
“It’s a huge win-win – for the airport and for us,” Leigh said. “Everyone gets what they want.”
Rockford Airport officials declined to comment.
The airport, which owns the 14 acres of Bell Bowl Prairie, has agreed not to do any construction there until Oct. 15, according to Amy Doll, director of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves. The airport also agreed to wait for state and federal assessments of the effects on endangered species, none of which have been completed.
In other recent developments, U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston dismissed a lawsuit from the Natural Land Institute on August 31, according to environmentalists. The judge ruled that the prairie was not in immediate danger and that the court lacked jurisdiction, according to a statement from attorneys for the Nature Land Institute.
The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice, the environmentalists said, meaning they are free to file another lawsuit if the prairie faces a more immediate threat.
The $50 million cargo expansion project is expected to generate 600 permanent jobs, according to the airport’s website. The expansion includes a 90,000 square foot international cargo center, a 100,000 square foot international cargo facility, a new aircraft ramp and a new route for trucks entering and exiting the facility.
Environmentalists have long argued there’s a way to meet the airport’s needs without damaging the 5-acre heart of Bell Bowl – one of the last places in Illinois where prairie exists much as it did. is 8,000 years old, and a feeding ground for the federally endangered Rusty-patched Bumblebee.
But in recent months, environmentalists have refined that argument.
In July, they received the results of engineer’s reportcarried out by Geosyntec Consultants in Oak Brook.
The report found that by combining the alternatives presented in an earlier government assessment of the airport expansion, the airport could avoid disturbance to the 5 acres of pristine grassland and minimize disturbance to the entire grassland of 14 acres. The report suggested moving a 1 million square foot freight building east, away from the most valuable section of the prairie, and moving to a roadside location to the east or southeast.
The report noted potential objections, including a higher rate of accidents expected under the proposed redesign, but suggested possible solutions such as a lower speed limit or innovative de-icing techniques.
In addition to the rusty bumblebee, other endangered species have been spotted in Bell Bowl Prairie or on the airport grounds, including Franklin’s ground squirrel, large-flowered penstemon, cat’s claw, false dandelion prairies, black-billed cuckoo, hen harrier. , the Loggerhead Shrike and the Upland Sandpiper.
During the year-long debate over the fate of the prairie, environmentalists and their supporters have launched protests and reached out to lawmakers. High school students in Pontiac, Illinois started a Bell Bowl Prairie project. At a recent tree planting in southeast Chicago, a neighborhood activist showed up with a hand-painted “Save the Bell Bowl Prairie” sign.
“There are people who care all over the state,” Doll said.
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She expressed frustration that the airport refused to pursue mediation or discuss possible solutions directly with environmentalists. She also complained about the lack of public meetings on the subject.
“That’s not how democracy works,” Doll said. “Our elected and elected officials have an obligation to make transparent and open decisions.”
Leigh said she’s very excited about the proposed “win-win” approach, in which the airport would seek federal funding for an overhaul that protects the prairie heartland.
“It’s the carrot,” she said. The stick is that the Natural Land Institute is ready to file another lawsuit calling for a halt to construction.
“We’re ready to hold this for a long time,” Leigh said. “And it just seems like a good idea to bring that money into Rockford, do the overhaul and move the project forward.”