Environmentalists ‘stunned’ by Gov. JB Pritzker campaign ad featuring Rockford airport

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The Greater Rockford Airport Authority has committed to halting construction at Bell Bowl Prairie through June 1, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.  The prairie is pictured here on Sept. 23, 2021.

ROCKFORD — A 30-second television ad paid for by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s re-election campaign touts the governor’s contributions toward making the Chicago Rockford International Airport "the fastest growing cargo airport in the world."

“Across Illinois, we’re improving infrastructure and creating jobs,” Pritzker states in the ad. “There’s a lot left to do, but Illinois is moving forward.”

The ad, which has been airing for about two weeks, has caught the attention of environmental groups who are fighting to preserve the Bell Bowl Prairie within the airport’s 3,000 acre footprint.

“First of all, we were stunned,” said Kerry Leigh, executive director of the Natural Land Institute. “He didn’t have to put that one-sided ad out. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with the fact that his office is kind of impenetrable. We haven’t been able to get through to talk to him about it.”

The 8,000-year-old prairie is home to several threatened and endangered species, including the federally protected rusty patched bumblebee.

The Greater Rockford Airport Authority has agreed to delay the construction of a service road through the prairie while the Federal Aviation Administration evaluates whether it needs to conduct an additional environmental review.

The service road is part of the $50 million expansion of the airport’s cargo operations.

Federal Aviation Adminstration: Construction delayed at Bell Bowl Prairie

The airport’s expansion should not come at the expense of the prairie, Leigh said.

“We submitted a letter (to the governor) from environmental groups, not just in Illinois but across the Midwest, supporting environmental, sustainable, progressive design that would support the airport’s goals and also save the prairie,” Leigh said. “We do know there’s a way if there’s a will.”

Pritzker’s gubernatorial staff referred the Register Star to the governor’s campaign.

Natalie Edelstein, communications director for the Pritzker campaign, was not immediately available for comment.

Further muddying the waters, according to Leigh, is Pritzker’s support for the “30 by 30” initiative, an international effort to conserve 30% of the world’s natural areas by 2030.

“So, when he talks about promoting ‘30 by 30’, it’s not okay when something gets sticky and needs to be talked about and resolved, he just hides his head in the sand and doesn’t respond,” Leigh said.  “We have been so focused on the message that we can have the airport expansion and protect the prairie, but this (ad) being one-sided was a bit of a shock.”

Edelstein told Chicago TV station WTTW that the ad was not indicative of a shift in any previously held position, nor is the governor prioritizing economic development over environmental protection. 

The airport’s cargo expansion project remains on hold for now. 

Airport officials have made a commitment that construction work will not resume before June 1.

More:Protesters rally at Rockford airport as construction plan impacting Bell Bowl to resume

Ken DeCoster: kdecoster@rrstar.com; @DeCosterKen

via Rockford Register Star

April 15, 2022 at 09:20AM

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