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.

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. 

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Phelps County Prosecutor Brendon Fox filed a petition in court this week to remove Daniel Jones from the Rolla City Council. 

He cited Jones’ 2012 guilty plea to a felony charge of cannabis possession as a violation of state law that prohibits convicted felons from holding public office. 

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

Iron County is one of the state’s least healthy counties, according to the Missouri Health Atlas.

So when Iron County Medical Center in Pilot Knob, about 85 miles southwest of St. Louis, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, there was great concern.

“We’re all people around here have. It’s a very impoverished area,” said Joshua Gilmore, the CEO of the hospital.

Phil Cohen with two of the toy trucks he made when he started woodworking. It was his escape from a life of drugs and crime, and now he hires people with similar backgrounds to work at his business.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Phil Cohen didn’t think anyone would want to work for him at the cabinetry company he opened in St. James in 2004. He was recovering from being addicted to drugs and had been in trouble with the law. He didn’t know much about business. His plans were largely built on faith.

So he hired people like him — former criminals and people who had been drug addicted who were turning their lives around.

Monsanto's widely used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 1 p.m., June 25 with comments from Bayer — Two Missouri law firms have filed a potential class-action lawsuit against Bayer, alleging the company violated state law in not disclosing the health risks associated with the weed killer Roundup. 

The lawsuit is different from others because it seeks purchase refunds, not compensation for personal injury.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

A bill before Gov. Mike Parson would set up a fund to accept donations and grants to develop the 144-mile former Rock Island rail line as a recreational trail.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources would manage the fund, but there will be no state money committed to the project.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

As legal medical marijuana is on its way to Missouri, the city of Rolla is exploring decriminalizing possession of small amounts by recreational users.

The City Council recently voted 10-2 to direct city staff to research the concept and come back with proposals to make possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana punishable by a fine or eliminate prosecution altogether.

Summer festivals are ubiquitous (especially across the Midwest), and often highlight the local food specialty, be it corn, apples or beef. But when the food has a less-than-glamorous reputation, a town has a decision to make.

HCI Alternatives in Collinsville is one of 53 medical cannabis dispensaries licensed by the State of Illinois
File Photo | Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

While the state will license medical marijuana dispensary facilities, it’s up to cities to set the rules on where they can locate in their towns.

The amendment voters approved last fall to legalize medical marijuana has some provisions regulating the location of dispensaries, labs, cultivation centers and testing facilities. That includes a minimum of 1,000 feet from schools, day cares and places of worship.

The ongoing effects of the trade war, severe weather and low crop prices have farmers reluctant to make big purchases like tractors, combines and planters. It was apparent in the U.S. Commerce Department’s new report, which shows farm equipment sales were down $900 million dollars over the first three months of 2019.

That’s the biggest decline in sales since 2016.

Animal waste and nitrogen-based agricultural fertilizers contribute to nitrate runoff, which ends up in creeks, streams, rain and, eventually, water systems. Nitrate, that mix of nitrogen and oxygen, can cause serious health problems if it’s too concentrated.

The best defense is filtering, which forests are great at doing. But a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service suggests forests are falling behind, and heavy rains brought on by climate change are making it worse.

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