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.

Katie Bartels and her emotional support cat Hank, who was certified as an ESA by a therapist, not an online service. 01-20-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

If you have a little bit of money and can answer a 10-question online survey, you can get an official-looking certificate stating that you need an emotional support animal. 

You don’t have to talk to anyone or go through an assessment.

Because it’s so easy to obtain the documentation and the laws on accommodations for emotional support animals are murky, some people are using the certification to get out of paying pet deposits and monthly fees to keep an animal in an apartment.

Advancements at Missouri S&T could make charging electric cars, like this Tesla at a charging station in Rolla, cheaper, faster and safer.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — As more industries, including transportation, are looking to electricity to deliver more power, Missouri University of Science and Technology wants to help meet that demand.

The school is leading a research effort to develop the equipment needed to deliver voltages that are up to 100 times what are found in the average household outlet.

“The goal is to figure out how to deliver high voltage cheaply and safely,” said Mehdi Ferdowsi, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri S&T.

One of the 30 seat regional jets that began serving the airport at Ft. Leonard Wood when Contour Airlines took over the service in Feburary 2019 01-08-19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

FORT LEONARD WOOD — Passenger counts at the Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport were down from February through October of 2019 compared to the previous year.

That’s despite a new airline coming in and upgrading the departing planes from eight-seat propellor planes to 30-seat jets.

When Nashville-based Contour Airlines replaced Massachusetts-based Cape Air, local officials were confident it would improve and expand service. But it’s taking a bit longer than expected for that to come to fruition.

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 number of Missouri farmers who are pessimistic about the new year is double what it was at the same time in 2019, according to a new survey by the Missouri Farm Bureau. 

The poll of members showed that 14% of farmers have negative feelings about 2020, compared to 6% in 2019 and 3% in 2018.

A similar survey of farmers by Purdue University shows a comparable mood across the Midwest.

Chantae McMillan meets with supporters at a fundraiser at her hometown of Rolla 12-25-19
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Chantae McMillan came back to her hometown for the holidays, in part for some help as she looks to qualify for the Summer Games in Tokyo next year.

“Olympic athletes don’t get a paycheck,” McMillan said at a fundraiser at Public House Brewing Company in Rolla. “We rely upon sponsors. And I have always been able to rely on people in Rolla who have always helped me.”

Goats grazing in a pasture at Mark Twain National Forest infested with the invasive species Sericea 12-25-19
USDA Forest Service

ROLLA - Kudzu and other invasive plants are threatening parts of the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri’s Ozarks, and goats might be part of the solution.

In 2019, the National Forest Service started a pilot program to use small herds of goats in certain sections of the 1.5 million acre forest to clear out invasive plant species.

The new 144-mile segment of the Rock Island Trail would span from Windsor, Missouri, in the western part of the state to Beaufort in Franklin County.
MoBikeFed | Flickr

Utility company Ameren has come to an agreement with Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources to donate an old rail line for use as a recreational trail. 

The former Rock Island and Pacific Rail corridor owned by Ameren stretches 144 miles from Beaufort to Windsor and would complete a trail that would connect Kansas City to St. Louis. 

Industrial hemp plants like these can soon be grown legally in Missouri (12/15/19)
MIssouri Hemp Association

For the first time in more than 70 years, farmers in Missouri will be allowed to grow industrial hemp during the 2020 growing season.

But first they will need a permit from the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Those applications are online now, and the department will start processing them right after the first of the year.

Feral swine in Missouri cause damage to wildlife, plants, animals, natural habitat and farmland. 12-09-19
USDA

ROLLA — Hunters interested in taking any of the feral hogs that are doing significant damage in the Ozarks will have to do so in very limited windows.

The U.S. Forest Service announced on Saturday that hunting of feral hogs in Mark Twain National Forest will be limited to deer and turkey season and restricted to hunters holding permits.

A soldier at Fort Leonard Wood is tested for TBI using the experimental Brain Scope, part of research going on at the base and Phelps Health in Rolla. 12/5/19
Matthew Doellman | Phelps Health

Diagnosing traumatic brain injury faster so treatment can start right away is the focus of a $5 million research project centered at Fort Leonard Wood and nearby Phelps Health Hospital in Rolla.

Traumatic brain injury is a head injury from an external force that can do long-lasting damage to the brain. Phelps Health is a community hospital that serves a county of fewer than 50,000 people, but is conducting research that could revolutionize the way the Army treats everything from concussions to serious brain injury. 

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.

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