ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford’s Airport spoke out after pausing work on a portion of it’s $50 million international cargo expansion project last month.

RFD initially planned to build on a piece of land known as the Bell Bowl Prairie. Environmental advocates said that it is home to important prairie grass and an endangered bee species.

RFD said that a 2019 environmental impact study found no concerns. The expansion project is more than 60% complete.

The airport expects to see a ripple effect once the project is finished.

“This is a beginning phase of a much larger cargo development and future growth of the airport. As we move forward, that possibly could be hundreds of millions of dollars in construction, thousands of jobs, and billions of dollars in economic impact for the region,” said Greater Rockford Airport Authority Zack Oakley.

The Natural Land Institute has challenged the airport’s plans in court, and group leaders said that they want to work with RFD on a new design that avoids the prairie.

“We welcome the expansion, and we think it’s extremely important for Rockford and the expansion of the airport, the whole cargo thing coming to Rockford, instead of other airports, all the jobs that will be created, the economic boon to the region is really, very important. Our message has always been, we can have both,” said Kerry Leigh, Executive Director of the Natural Land Institute.

The airport said that it expects work to pick back up in the spring, and at least 600 jobs will be created once it is completed.

RFD said that it will abide by federal regulators’ recommendations regarding the Bell Bowl.