Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Jonathan Ahl

Rolla Correspondent

Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.

Friday is the deadline for U.S.-China trade talks. If they fail and China's 25-percent tariff on soybeans goes into effect, Missouri farmers will feel the impact.
jasonippolito | Flickr

The trade war with China is nearly a year and a half old, and farmers say there is no end in sight.

Farmers in Missouri and Illinois will receive a second round of federal payments to make up for losses from the ongoing trade war with China. Tariffs have reduced the demand for U.S. agricultural products.

Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said the farmers he is talking to are not optimistic there will be a resolution soon.

Kathy Ellis addresses a public forum on income inequality in Rolla (November 2019)
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA Kathy Ellis lost to Congressman Jason Smith last year by nearly 50 percentage points, but the Democrat from Festus is already gearing up for a rematch she thinks she can win.

Eillis has held a dozen town hall meetings throughout the 30 counties that make up Missouri’s 8th Congressional District in the southeast part of the state.

Missouri S&T researchers Ryan Smith, Marek Locmelis, Jonathan Obrist-Farner and research assistant Gabriela Ramirez examine a soil sample as part of their research into toxic contaminants. 11-25-19
Tom Wagner | Missouri S&T

ROLLA — The spring floods in Missouri and Illinois caused more than $1 billion in damage and may have left behind chemicals that could hurt the environment and end up in drinking water.

“A lot of times we don’t take measurements right after a flood. So we don’t have a really good idea of how long it takes for these things to get flushed out,” said Ryan Smith, a geologist at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. 

Solar panels are showing up more often on farms. File foto from Fickr
David Goehring | Flickr

Low crop prices and an ongoing trade war limiting exports are adding to the financial struggles of farming. 

Across the nation, and in Missouri, an increasing number of farmers are looking to solar energy as a way to shore up the bottom line.

Kyle Wernke conducts the Missouri S&T Orchestra.
John Francis

ROLLA — Kyle Wernke is an up-and-coming composer, but he doesn’t teach at a high-profile music school. 

There are no music majors in his orchestra, and the students spend more time on equations than they do on scales. Wernke teaches at Missouri University of Science and Technology, a school known much more for engineering than for performing arts.

Missouri S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani gives his State of the University Address 11-11-19
Tom Wagner | Missouri S&T

Mo Dehghani, who has led Missouri University of Science and Technology for 100 days, already has ambitious plans to increase the size and impact of the school.

He laid out his vision for the campus in Rolla during a State of the University address last week. 

A flyer encouraging voters to approve the use tax in Phelps County and the City of Rolla. 10/24/19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Voters in Phelps County were inconsistent Tuesday in their approach to authorizing local government to collect sales taxes on online purchases. 

Phelps County rejected the tax, while its two biggest cities, Rolla and St. James, approved it.

Co-ops like Intercounty Electric are at risk of losing their tax exempt status if they receive too much federal money. 11-2-19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — A change in federal tax law is threatening the future viability of rural electric cooperatives, according to Missouri industry leaders.

Federal law requires nonprofit electric co-ops to have only 15% of their revenue come from outside their customer base in order to maintain tax-exempt status. But part of the 2017 tax cuts modified the law to have federal grants count toward that 15%. That means Federal Emergency Management Agency grants for repairs due to natural disasters could push the providers into the realm of taxable power companies.

A flyer encouraging voters to approve the use tax in Phelps County and the City of Rolla. 10/24/19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Phelps County and its two largest cities have only one question on the ballot Nov. 5 — whether to start collecting a tax for online sales known as a use tax.

Phelps County, along with Rolla and St. James, are reporting sales tax revenue that is lagging behind expenses. They all place the blame on consumers increasingly moving toward online shopping, where there isn’t any sales tax paid. 

Robots mounted with new detection equipment roll toward a simulated collapsed building at Fort Leonard Wood as part of testing of new technology. 10-18-19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

FORT LEONARD WOOD — Soldiers in Missouri are testing new technology that could help save lives after a natural disaster or a terrorist bombing while keeping search-and-rescue teams safe.

The $700,000 Department of Defense project at Fort Leonard Wood is combining new and existing forms of technology that can be used by both the military and civilian first responders.

School robotics competitions like this one at Missouri S&T in 2016 can help students develop an interest in STEM fields. 3/15/16
Sam O'Keefe | Missouri S&T

ROLLA — Rural Missouri school districts short on money sometimes struggle with teaching the three R's, so the idea of adding advanced science and technology instruction can be daunting.

A $250,000 state grant through Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla is helping 41 school districts in 10 counties in south-central Missouri bolster their offerings.

A section of the Big Piney River that runs through Fort Leonard Wood. This is one of the places that provides habitat to endandered species that live at the base. 10-02-19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Fort Leonard Wood is home to more than 6,000 soldiers and at least three endangered species.

Those animals and two more that are threatened are protected and cared for despite living among shelling and other military training.

And scientists flock to the installation, saying it’s a boon to their research and gives them an opportunity to help these animals.

The Southeast Missouri Behavioral Health office in Cuba is an example of a mental health care office that serves a large, rural county.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — A new study shows suicide rates are on the rise, especially in rural counties, and the Missouri Ozarks and the Bootheel have some of the highest in the Midwest.

The report from Ohio State University shows counties with higher suicide rates tend to have more gun shops, more veterans and fewer people with health insurance. Their populations also tend to be poorer, more socially isolated and have less access to health care.

Iron County Medical Center in Pilot Knob is at risk of closing. The USDA is opposing its plan to emerge from bankruptcy.
Iron County Medical Center

Across the country, people who live in rural areas are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer than city dwellers, according to a new study published in the Journal of Rural Health.

Patients living in counties far from populated cities and suburbs were 1.23 times more likely to be diagnosed with non-curable, stage 4 colon cancer than people living in urban areas, according to the research. That’s despite rural residents having lower rates of developing the disease.

Treatment outcomes are also worse for rural patients, with various studies finding they have an 8% to 15% greater chance of dying from colon cancer.

A concentrated animal feeding operation consisting of black and white dairy cows all in a row, feeding from a trough.
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service

The state of Missouri can begin taking over the regulation of large livestock operations from county and local representatives. 

A Cole County judge last week lifted a temporary injunction that had been blocking a law that transfers that regulatory power from counties to the state since last month.

Two of the posters that are part of the "I Chose To Live" suicide prevention program at Fort Leonard Wood. 8/29/19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

FORT LEONARD WOOD — In 2007, Jason VanKleeck was a drill sergeant in the Army, moving up the ranks and taking on new jobs.

But depression led to suicidal thoughts and nearly ended his life. 

He got help, and now is sharing his story with fellow soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood as part of a suicide prevention and mental health education program called “I Chose To Live.”

Holly Bickmeyer and cattle on the small farm she manages. She wants control over large livestock operations to stay local. Sept 9., 2019
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Holly Bickmeyer is worried about what a large livestock operation would do if it moves in next door. 

She points to the small lake in front of her house on the 20-head cattle farm she operates in Maries County.

“Sinkholes open up all the time,” Bickmeyer said. “You see the lake that’s in my front yard here? If somebody builds a hog operation at the end of my driveway, I would be concerned about that waste getting into the groundwater and I walk out one day and all my bass are dead.”

Bickmeyer said that’s why she wants her local county commissioners to decide if concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as CAFOs, can locate nearby. 

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Daniel Jones said he is right and the law is wrong.

But ultimately, he didn’t think he would win a legal battle to keep his seat on the Rolla City Council.

He resigned Thursday night, on the eve of a hearing to determine whether he could continue to hold public office.

This cannon made by Missouri S&T faculty and students is being used to test mine seals.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA - Sometimes, the best way to see how strong something is means shooting it with a cannon loaded up with stuff found in a coal mine.

While this may sound like a TV comedy bit, it’s part of serious research at the Missouri University of Science and Technology that could make coal mines safer for workers.

St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank Economist Kevin Kliesen addresses the Rolla Regional Economic Commission on July 22, 2019
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — An economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis says there are some mixed signals coming from the region.

Companies are starting to get concerned, while consumers are spending money and have higher levels of confidence, business economist Kevin Kliesen told a recent gathering of the Rolla Regional Economic Commission.

It all adds up to his prediction that 2020 will see modest growth at a slower rate than the past two years.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

WAYNESVILLE — Sen. Roy Blunt is quick to tell people he is proud of soldiers, veterans and the bases in Missouri.

And he says the state can do better in supporting those soldiers and their families.

Blunt was a speaker Thursday at the annual meeting of the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes the region around Fort Leonard Wood.

The theme of the meeting was “Supporting National Defense in the Heart of America."

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Small towns love their high school football team. 

So much so, that every year around this time there are scam artists who try to prey upon that pride to get money from local businesses.

The scam works like this: An out-of-town printing company calls businesses saying it is printing items to promote the high school team, and asks them to be sponsors by buying an ad. 

But the money doesn’t go to support the team, and the items may never be printed.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Mo Dehghani looked at Missouri University of Science and Technology (then known as the University of Missouri-Rolla) when he was picking a school for his undergraduate education.

While he decided to go to Louisiana State University, Missouri S&T’s commitment to science and technology stayed in his mind. Now, he’s ended up in Rolla as the school’s chancellor.

“When I got the call for the position, I was over the moon,” Dehghani said.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

The mostly nondescript Building 2101 at Fort Leonard Wood was the home of the Black Officers' Club before the Army was desegregated in 1948. 

The building had been slated for demolition, but a preservation effort restored it. The goal is to honor African American soldiers who served in difficult times.

A taxidermied feral hog was on display at an open house in Rolla to get comment about hunting them in the Mark Twain National Forest.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Feral hogs are causing major damage to the Mark Twain National Forest.

The animals dig up grasslands and crops, they eat eggs and baby wildlife, and scratching an itch on their backs can literally strip the bark off a tree.

Hunters want a chance to help out with this menace that can weigh over 200 pounds and produce 40 to 50 offspring a year. But the National Forest Service is considering outlawing feral hog hunts on public land in the Mark Twain.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Highway 63, which stretches the length of Missouri and runs through Columbia, Jefferson City and Rolla, has the highest rate of fatal crashes over the past decade of any road in the state, according to a new report.

Fleet management company Geotab compiled data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration to calculate the roads with the highest fatal-crash rate in each state.

Highway 63 saw 158 crashes and 179 fatalities in the past 10 years.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Eric Meusch, who farms 240 acres just outside Rolla, didn’t have health insurance for seven years until he recently got another job.

“We signed up for a plan under the Affordable Care Act right when it was passed. But two years later, we couldn’t afford the premiums,” Meusch said, speaking to U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, on the porch of his home last week.

Friday is the deadline for U.S.-China trade talks. If they fail and China's 25-percent tariff on soybeans goes into effect, Missouri farmers will feel the impact.
jasonippolito | Flickr

Rural bank presidents in a 10-state area including Missouri and Illinois said the Trump administration’s trade war is hurting their local economies. And while they still back the president in getting tough on China, that support is waning. 

The information comes from Ernie Goss, professor of economics at Creighton University, who surveys small-town bank presidents to get their take on the local economy. 

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Responding to a Department of Defense mandate that all military bases improve housing conditions, Fort Leonard Wood has hired more staff and made it easier for soldiers and their families to report problems. 

The base is reporting those changes have reduced complaints and sped up repairs.

Missouri S&T researchers will look at ways to improve the life of roads, like this section of I-44 in Rolla
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 40 million motorists are expected to hit the road in the U.S. this holiday weekend, and many of them will encounter highways that are cracked or littered with potholes.

Missouri University of Science and Technology is part of an effort to make those roads last longer. 

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