Jon Kovash

News Correspondent - Moab

Originally from Wyoming, Jon Kovash has practiced journalism throughout the intermountain west. He was editor of the student paper at Denver’s Metropolitan College and an early editor at the Aspen Daily News. He served as KOTO/Telluride’s news director for fifteen years, during which time he developed and produced Thin Air, an award-winning regional radio news magazine that ran on 20 community stations in the Four Corners states. In Utah his reports have been featured on KUER/SLC and KZMU/Moab. Kovash is a senior correspondent for Mountain Gazette and plays alto sax in “Moab’s largest garage band."

In the last year in Utah, three people - all women - have died after their Polaris ATV caught fire. 

Utah Department of Environmental Quality

Twice a year, the Cameco uranium mine in central Wyoming sends a truckload of a mining byproduct known in the trade as “barium sludge” to the White Mesa uranium mill south of Blanding. The last two truckloads have resulted in highway spills. The most recent was on March 29th. Ken Vaughn is a Cameco spokesman for the Smith Ranch uranium mine, which is near Casper, Wyoming.

Jon Kovash

This week Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is visiting multiple towns in Southeast Utah to hear local concerns about federal lands. 

Blake McCord

Do young people care more about climate change than old people? That’s part of the premise of a new outreach effort by the Grand Canyon Trust. 

Back in 2014, the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Trust launched an experimental new program called “Uplift.” The idea is to create a regional conservation movement specifically aimed at young people.

In a few weeks, Utah’s Federal District Court will begin deliberations on the White Mesa uranium mill, and whether it threatens the health of the local Ute Mountain Ute community. 

The lawsuit was filed by the Grand Canyon Trust on behalf of the Utes who live at White Mesa, south of Blanding.

 A federal court has sided with the Navajo Nation by ordering San Juan County to create new voting districts that grant equal power to Navajo voters.


Jon Kovash

During the past few months, 27 new wind towers have appeared above the town of Monticello, and it took many long years to make it happen.

Utah representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz are unveiling their long-awaited Public Lands Initiative in Salt Lake City. But Utah’s Navajos and Utes, along with conservation groups, have joined to focus instead on persuading President Obama to create a Bears Ears national monument. 


The long-awaited first draft of the proposed Utah Public Lands Initiative, authored by congressional members Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, is set for public release. The draft is already under fire from Utah’s tribal and green groups.

 


googleimages

An increasing number of residents and public interest groups say Utah has essentially hijacked funds meant to alleviate the local impacts of oil and gas drilling.

Earlier in October in Escalante, on the edge of the Grand Staircase, the weather was beautiful, but 150 people chose to sit in a darkened auditorium to watch slides of Utah rock art.

 

It’s called the Utah Rock Art Research Association, the biggest and oldest such group, and it’s president, Richard Jenkinson, was one of the presenters at the once a year event.

 

 The Navajo Nation is demanding immediate voting reforms in San Juan County, where it’s charged that Native American voters continue to be denied equal weight.

San Juan County and the Navajo Nation are still embroiled in court over whether the county’s voting districts unfairly shut out Native America voters, who constitute a majority of the county’s population. Now the Navajo Human Rights Commission is charging that mail-in balloting and the closing of remote polling places has reduced turnout for Navajo voters.

The national discussion over the issue of racism has led to new efforts by some in Utah to rename Dixie State College in St. George, and Negro Bill Canyon in Moab.

This week, in a 4-3 vote, the Grand County Council once again rejected a proposal to rename Negro Bill Canyon. The majority cited opposition to the name change by the NAACP office in Salt Lake City. The change was originally proposed last year by African American resident, Louis Williams, who has argued that the current name clouds the real history of William Grandstaff, one of Moab’s earliest settlers.

  

The recent controversy over the Confederate flag has prompted some Moab residents to again call for the renaming of Negro Bill Canyon. 


Jon Kovash

Arches National Park has reached an agreement with the State of Utah regarding water rights in the park.

Pinnacle Helicopters

Eight companies are approved to conduct scenic air tours over Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, including Redtail Aviation, which said it has tripled in size in the last 10 years. Two years ago, Pinnacle Helicopters was added to the mix.

Jon Kovash

Moab’s Youth Rock Camp has more than doubled in size this year. Thirty students, aged 8 to 14, signed up; enough to form six bands. The rock camp was launched and is directed by Amy Stocks, a local musician and staffer at the teen center.

“The volunteers have really stepped up and really helped us out,” Stocks said. “We’ve got some amazing roadies. I think roadies are the answer to life’s problems.”

Once again, some of the best musicians in Moab have given a week of their time to coach promising young rock stars. They included guitarist Lisa Hathaway.

Sara Fields

Thanks to a citizen watchdog group, the owner of uranium mines on the south flanks of the La Sal Mountains, near Moab, will have to provide more data on potential environmental impacts.

Whit Richardson

Last weekend hundreds of mountain bike connoisseurs converged on Moab to try out the latest and greatest gear.

The event is called Outerbike, and the idea came from Ashley Korenblat, proprietor of the Western Spirit bike shop in Moab.

billboard for airport
moablive.com

A dwindling number of air carriers serve remote towns with federal subsidies from the Essential Air Service, or EAS program. In Utah, they include Moab, Vernal and Cedar City. In May, two out of the three are set to lose their air service to Salt Lake City. It’s a game of musical chairs that isn’t set to end soon.


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Jon Kovash / Utah Public Radio

On the Logan main campus, work is underway on a permaculture teaching garden, which will demonstrate alternatives for dealing with storm water in the city. A USU Professor is now doing the same thing in Moab.

Like many Utah towns, Moab struggles to conserve water. There’s still a lot of Kentucky bluegrass, with the sprinkler runoff flowing down the gutters, heavy irrigation for hobby alfalfa farms, aggressive storm drainage, and the city still sells tap water to oil and gas drillers. Enter Dr. Roslynn Brain, USU professor in Sustainable Communities. During the last year Brain has helped launch an effort to build “rain gardens” all over Moab. She says she was inspired by local bee keeper Jerry Shue.

"He had an idea to put in pollinator gardens throughout the town. Then we found out that people with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the BLM, there are individuals throughout the community of Moab who are interested in these concepts. And so we all met together and came up with the idea of collaborating on an initiative to put in bee-inspired gardens. There’s already a strong movement in Moab of gardeners and of sustainability. People seem to understand these concepts," Brain said.

Speakers at White Mesa Mill, uranium
Jon Kovash / Utah Public Radio

The last remaining uranium mill in the U.S. is located near Blanding. During the last two years monitoring has revealed that the mill’s waste pools are emitting dangerous amounts of radon gas. But despite those readings, regulators want to eliminate requirements for radon monitoring.

The White Mesa uranium mill is only three miles from the Ute Mountain Ute village of White Mesa. Recently tribal air quality experts reported what they call “alarming” findings concerning efforts to reduce radon emissions by covering toxic sludge ponds with radioactive water. The tribe has allied with several environmental groups to oppose the EPA’s intention to discontinue radon monitoring.

The growing oil field, along the entrance to the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands, became more controversial when citizens learned that Moab city water is being used for drilling, and then a well leaked oil all the way to the Green River. Now a new network of pipelines and a gas compressor plant have sparked a citizen watchdog group that has raised safety and environmental concerns. I talked to Bill Love, a member of the Canyon Country Coalition for Pipeline Safety.  

Jon Kovash / Utah Public Radio

A controversial oil and gas field along the approach to Dead Horse Point and Island in the Sky is getting more controversial. On Wednesday, about 30 protestors assembled with signs at the Moab’s BLM parking lot.

“We don’t want their oil and gas revenue money. And the only way we’re going to stop them is to continue that pressure is to be as vocal as we possibly can to anyone who is willing to listen,” one protestor said.

“And to go forth to the city council and the BLM and say wait a minute, what the hell’s going on?” another protestor said.

Due to citizen complaints, Heila Ershadi, a member of the Moab City Council, became aware that Moab’s two public water systems have been selling millions of gallons of culinary water to operators of oilfield tanker trucks.  

“Someone noticed the number of large trucks that were traveling down 500 West from a city operated station where there’s a filling station, and lots of trucks driving through this residential area. The concerns I have heard residents raise is that it’s too many trucks and that they drive quickly and recklessly down residential roads,”Ershadi said.

Moab has seen a drilling boom in the last two years, and many more wells are planned. The water trucks, along with tandem dump trucks full of drilling sand, are also creating dramatic new traffic on local highways that access Canyonlands. Moab is just one of scores of towns across the West where city water is being sold for industrial uses, including drilling and fracking, and cities sometimes even drill new wells to supply the water. The driller of nine active oil and gas wells near Island in the Sky says the wells are not being fracked, saving water. But Ershadi said she fears that could change sooner than the city has imagined.

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