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.

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.

 Steelville High School senior Caleb Dicus is honored at the event in Waynesville for his decision to enlist in the Army. More than 90 students from 12 high schools were recognized.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Many high school students choose college as their destination after graduation, and receive lots of attention for that decision. A collection of high schools near Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood wanted to bring that same recognition to students who join the military.

A group playing The Detective room at Great Xscape in Rolla. The four month old business is trying to cash in on the escape room craze in a smaller city.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

The escape room experience sounds a lot like putting yourself in a stressful situation for the sake of fun. These are games in which a group of people are put in a room. A clock counts down. The players have to find clues and solve puzzles hidden in the room before time runs out.

The popularity of escape rooms has increased dramatically, with just a handful in existence in 2015 to more than 2,300 nationwide operating today. There are national chains that operate rooms in dozens of big cities across the country, including St. Louis. But they are so popular that they are opening in smaller cities, usually run by individuals and families.

Staff Sergeants Bradley Miller and Rafael Agosto are one of the teams from Fort Leonard Wood in the Best Sapper Competition.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

“Sapper” is the Army’s nickname for the combat engineers who take on a variety of duties all centered around clearing the way for infantry to get where they need to go.

The name comes from the French word “sappe,” meaning to undermine and collapse a wall.

This week, 50 two-person teams of sappers from around the world are at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks to compete against each other in an event designed to test the wide-ranging skills a sapper needs.

Hydrocodone is a common opioid that is prescribed for pain relief
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

A study of workplace injuries in 27 states, including Missouri and Illinois, shows 68% of injured workers in very rural areas received at least one opioid prescription, while 54% of their urban counterparts received the same amount of prescription.

The study was conducted by the Workers Compensation Research Institute, an independent group that does research for insurance companies, employers and labor unions.

A company that makes dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton wants to expand use of the controversial weed killer to corn. But critics and experts questioning the logic of the petition.

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin is the first woman and third African American to lead Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood.
U.S. Army

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Donna Martin is the first woman to be in charge at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri’s Ozarks. She took the post in August. Martin, 53, is also only the third African American to hold the position in the installation’s 78-year history.

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl, Martin talked about a variety of issues including how she balances the responsibilities to the military and to the community that relies upon the base:

Meat and dairy are piling up across the U.S. It has cold storage places packed to the rafters, and the federal government, which subsidizes the agriculture industry, looking for ways to alleviate the problem, at least in the short-term.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Soldiers and their families who live on base at Fort Leonard Wood will now have quarterly opportunities to express any concerns about their homes directly to the Garrison Commander.

And the staff that handles inspections and oversees repairs to the more than 1,800 homes at the base in the Ozarks will increase from three to five.

Those changes are the result of a national effort to review the quality of military housing and address concerns about delays in repairs.

Andrew Joyce won’t be growing any tomatoes this summer. His three-acre produce farm in Malden, Missouri, will lie fallow. The cause: damage from the weed killer dicamba.

Missouri S&T's Mark Bookout stands near one of the drones being tested to help inspect and repair bridges.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri University of Science and Technology could be part of the solution to the state’s bridge-maintenance problem.

The state is behind on its maintenance and is working with Missouri S&T on robots to make it easier to inspect and repair bridges.

New recruits line up for outdoor lunch on a cold and windy day at Fort Leonard Wood. Some of them are wearing the current version of the boots, others are testing new designs.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Lt. Col. Alfred Boone saw a disturbing trend among the new recruits he oversees at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks.

“Infected blisters, hairline fractures, hip strains,” Boone said, describing the increase in injuries among the new soldiers.

Boone said the Army had a hunch that its iconic boots — the tan, heavy, high laced footwear — were to blame, because so many of the new recruits have never before worn hard-soled shoes.

In theory, closing off China’s soybean market due to the trade dispute with the U.S. on top of generally low prices for the commodity should affect all industry players, big to small. Agriculture economist Pat Westhoff begged to differ.

Swiss Meat and Sausage has been butchering animals and selling meats in a small, unincorporated east-central Missouri town for 50 years. Co-owner Janice Thomas wants to expand, and to do that, she’ll need more business from out-of-town customers.

“If there is one place that has some room, it’s with our online ordering,” she said.

The community of Swiss has minimal internet access: It’s not high speed, and it’s unreliable.

Sam O'Keefe | Missouri S&T

A team at Missouri University of Science and Technology has received a $1 million grant to research better kinds of cyber security.

They aren’t looking to stop outside hackers — they want to stop threats from the inside.

Facilities and systems like power grids, water plants and driverless cars could all benefit from the research funded by the National Science Foundation.

People who most intensely oppose genetically modified food think they know a lot about food science, but actually know the least, according to a peer-reviewed paper published in January in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

GMOs are widely considered safe by scientists, but opponents have said they want more science on the potential harm so that subjective arguments aren’t part of the equation.

Nashville-based Contour Airlines will start serving the regional airport at Fort Leonard Wood with 30-seat jets on Feb. 12.

That will be a upgrade from Cape Air, the current provider, and its nine-seat turbo-prop planes that have been flying out of the airport for the past eight years.

And the ninth passenger seat was actually the unused co-pilot’s seat.

The four campuses of the University of Missouri System are seeing an increase in requests for student counseling and other mental health services and are working together to meet the demand.

Chris Sullivan, who oversees counseling services at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the increase is part of a national trend as students face rising pressure ranging from stress over finances to trying to succeed in a new environment.

Dicamba, the controversial herbicide used on soybeans and cotton, is responsible for thousands of acres of damaged crops in recent years.

Experts say that despite new federal rules that go into effect in 2019, the drift will continue but the victims will be different.

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