By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — The Chicago Rockford International Airport said Monday that it has started formal consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration to determine the effect of its $50 million cargo expansion on an endangered bee found on the site.

The airport said it’s working with the FAA and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to continue developing the expansion, but construction will continue to be suspended within rare native prairie being analyzed by the federal organizations.

A grassroots group of conservationists has been pushing the airport for months to redesign its expansion so it can coexist with Bell Bowl Prairie. The airport, however, has said it would go forward with the project so long as it’s cleared by the FAA.

“Starting in the fall of 2021, the FAA initiated informal consultation, including investigating the potential effects of the cargo expansion on the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee that was reported at the airport,” said Zack Oakley, deputy director of operations and planning at RFD, said in a news release. “Over the past few months, the airport has worked to develop and ultimately submit a biological assessment to the FAA. The biological assessment identified that the expansion project may affect or likely to adversely affect the rusty patched bumble bee. The FAA reviewed the biological assessment and submitted it to the USFWS. As a result, the FAA submittal to USFWS initiates formal consultation under Section 7 of the (Endangered Species Act).”

Related: ‘We’re not going away’: Save Bell Bowl Prairie advocates rally outside Rockford airport

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will review the biological assessment and issue an opinion on how construction will affect the endangered bee. The airport said it anticipates that consultation will be completed this fall.

The $50 million cargo expansion is expected to create hundreds of construction jobs and up to 600 permanent jobs while growing the airport’s booming cargo operations.

The Chicago Rockford International Airport has agreed to temporarily halt expansion into the Bell Bowl Prairie, and it will redesign the location of a detention pond on the prairie. (Photo by Joni Denker/Provided by Save Bell Bowl Prairie

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas.

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