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Environmentalists and Rockford airport officials beg to differ over the Bell Bowl Prairie

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Bell Bowl Prairie

ROCKFORD (WREX) — Environmentalists from around the Rockford region are taking a stand in hopes to save a regional landmark from being erased forever. 

"We lose our heritage," said Biology Professor at Northern Illinois University Holly Jones. "We lose an ecological heritage and ecological lineage that we're just never going to get back."

RFD's current construction on the Bell Bowl Prairie is set to deliver additional economic growth and jobs for the region, but it halted construction in August to protect the new discovery of the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.

Prairies like this aren't only home to some of the rarest creatures, but production grounds for creation of medicine used by Native Americans. 

RFD said it's seeking to relocate plants and have even invited the IDNR to come to the Prairie to harvest plants and seeds of state significance. 

"There's just a long history of Native American and Indigenous communities using tons of different plants for tons of different things including medicines," said Jones. 

Jones is not opposed to the airport expanding, but suggests that an ethical compromise should be made. 

"I would just take the alternative that doesn't get rid of the prairie," Jones said. "There's plenty of space for them to expand that airport without bulldozing the prairie." 

The airport said it worked diligently with resource agencies to avoid detrimental impacts to endangered species and plants. 

Time will tell if a compromise will be made, but Jones says that business decisions like this should be thought out with care, especially when it affects a historic site like the Bell Bowl Prairie. 

RFD's Deputy Director of Operations and Planning Zack Oakley issued the following statement:

“In anticipation of multiple construction projects, Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) went through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Environmental Assessment process that wrapped up in November 2019. RFD followed all guidelines and rules set forth by the FAA, Federal, state, and local government that are required in order to proceed with any development in the assessment area. This included public notices, public meetings, and notices to all media in the area. As required, RFD completed the Environmental Assessment in 2019 and ultimately received a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) from the FAA in November 2019. Construction has since commenced in areas that were included in the 2019 Environmental Assessment."

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