Rockford Airport Sues to Dismiss Lawsuit Ending Destruction of Bell Bowl Prairie | Chicago News


Bell Bowl Prairie, a high-quality remnant of the Illinois prairie, located within the boundaries of Chicago Rockford International Airport. (Courtesy of Cassi Saari)

The Greater Rockford Airports Authority on Friday filed a petition in U.S. District Court to dismiss a lawsuit blocking the airport’s planned expansion of its cargo operations, which would destroy a rare vestige of High quality five acre meadow in the process.

The land in question, Bell Bowl Prairie, is located within the airport limits. The $ 50 million expansion project calls for the construction of a new road that would cross the prairie, which is home to a number of endangered plant species, as well as the endangered rusty bumblebee.

A lawsuit, filed in late October by the Natural Land Institute, the longtime Bell Bowl stewards, earned the prairie an eleventh-hour reprieve from the bulldozers, which were scheduled to roll on November 1. The airport has accepted a temporary break, set to expire on March 1.

In its newly filed petition, the airport authority, along with the Board of Airport Commissioners and Executive Director Michael Dunn argue that the Natural Land Institute, longtime stewards of Bell Bowl Prairie, lacked standing to sue in first place.

The land is owned by the airport authority, the motion says, and “is not a public park or otherwise accessible to the public.” As such, “Natural Land Institute has no right to be on the property and therefore cannot claim any prejudice resulting from the development of the land”.

The airport authority board of commissioners continues to challenge the existence of a 40-year agreement with the Natural Land Institute for the management of the Bell Bowl. The board passed a resolution at its December 16 meeting that abrogated such a relationship “if even approved” in 1977.

Kerry Leigh, executive director of the Natural Land Institute, said the latest legal move is a sign the airport authority is ‘deepening’ and has no intention of consulting environmentalists or members of the Rockford community for propose an alternative plan. this would allow the expansion and preservation of Bell Bowl.

“We expected them to file a motion to dismiss, so we’re ready,” Leigh said. “We have more tools in our toolbox. “

The Natural Land Institute has 30 days to respond to the airport authority’s motion, she said, which means “the bulldozers will not be out (at the Bell Bowl) this weekend.”

Time is running out, however. At the recent Board of Commissioners meeting, Zack Oakley, deputy director of operations and planning at Rockford Airport, described the expansion project as 65% complete, with a new mid-ramp opening to planes in the next few days.

The airport saw a 40% growth in cargo handled in November 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, Oakley said in a presentation that highlighted the importance of the airfield as an economic engine for the region.

Bell Bowl supporters have always said that saving the prairie doesn’t have to be “one or the other”, but rather “both and”.

Speaking at the board meeting, Jim Roberts, retired pastor of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Rockford, described himself as a promoter of the city and the airport – “My son worked (at the airport) for 20 years. I have skin in there, ”he said – but noted that paving a meadow was not the kind of attention the city needed.

“The optics won’t be good,” said Roberts. “We can have an amazing airport and an expansion, and we can also have a very quiet and very important irreplaceable prairie. “

The Save Bell Bowl Prairie movement has updated an action alert to lawmakers, aiming to surpass the 33,000 letters sent earlier this fall to stop construction, Leigh said.

“Make it your holiday gift to the Bell Bowl,” she said.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]


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