Natural Land Institute Sues Agency to Protect Scarce Illinois Prairie

On Tuesday, the Natural Land Institute (NLI) filed a complaint in the Northern District of Illinois against the Greater Rockford Airport Authority (GRAA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and other relevant government agencies for a planned expansion of roadwork to the Chicago Rockford International Airport that would allegedly destroy Bell Bowl Prairie, one of the last remaining prairies in Illinois.

The GRAA is planning on beginning construction on a new roadway through the prairie this upcoming Monday, November 1, that the plaintiffs claimed will “permanently destroy” it. As detailed in the complaint, only 0.01% of the original Illinois prairies remain in “good condition.” which is approximately only 18.4 acres of dry gravel prairie in the entire state. Furthermore, Illinois considered two species of plants and one species of bee that are native to this prairie to be endangered. The NLI cited the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires that “federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their actions in the decision-making process” to claim that the GRAA and FAA are violating this law by approving the scheduled roadwork.

The plaintiffs are suing for NEPA and Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act violations as well as breach of agreement. This is because the NLI was given “custody and responsibility of the publicly owned Bell Bowl Prairie by the GRAA as part of a Master Plan and Resolution passed November 1, 1977 for Bell Bowl Prairie on a 5-year renewal basis,” which is still in effect. The NLI argued that this is a clear violation of the GRAA’s duty to preserve and protect their prairie and its native species.

The NLI is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that the FAA’s Final Assessment is invalidated in accordance with NEPA, that their findings are arbitrary and capricious in relation to the endangered species in Bell Bowl Prairie, mandate further environmental assessments, and preliminarily and permanently enjoin the FAA and the GRAA from working on the Proposed Action, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Von Briesen & Roper, S.C.