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."

 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

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.

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.

aerial view of White Mesa Mill
Google Earth

America’s last remaining uranium mill, located in Blanding, has been violating federal safety standards, a regional environmental group has charged in federal court.

The Grand Canyon Trust, which has long opposed uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, has filed its intent to sue in Utah Federal District Court. At issue is whether the White Mesa uranium mill is operating outside of the law and contaminating the area with high radiation and dust levels. Taylor McKinnon is the energy program director of the Trust.

"Agencies aren’t enforcing, and citizens need to. That’s what’s happening here. Utah isn’t doing its job, so we’re going to do that job.”

McKinnon says monitoring has established that federal standards for radon emissions have repeatedly been violated.

“We think these are pretty clear numerical violations. There’s not a lot of wiggle room. Based on monthly reports, those emissions have now exceeded the standard two years running,” he said.

fcc, low power radio, FM radio, radio,

November was the deadline to apply to the Federal Communications Commission for a new round of low-power FM radio licenses. In Utah, there are 15 proposals for new stations.

The deadline has just passed for a historic window to apply for low-power FM frequencies. As soon as next year, Salt Lake City and several small towns in Utah could have new non-profit radio stations up and running. Limited to 100-watt transmitters, these will be what are sometimes called “hyper-local” stations.

white mesa uranium mill

America’s last active uranium mill, near Blanding in San Juan County, announced plans to shut down for at least a year, beginning August 2014. It’s going to have a devastating effect on a would-be revival of uranium mining in the Four Corners.

The White Mesa Mill directly employs about 200 people in Blanding. Many more people, including suppliers and miners all across the region, depend on the mill.

Jon Kovash

Back in 2008 the Utah legislature launched a somewhat bold experiment: they created a new class of vehicle – the “street legal” off-highway vehicle. Five years later, the law remains mostly uncontroversial, but has had a big impact on the ATV rental and sales business. Jon Kovash reports from Moab, one of Utah’s ATV capitals.

rob bishop, jason chaffetz, public lands

Two Utah congressmen say they are well on their way to forging a historic “grand bargain,” in which “the pie would be divvied up,” the pie being publicly owned lands in Eastern Utah.

Friday night, Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz were in Moab, halfway through a tour of Eastern Utah counties. They are promoting legislation they hope will eliminate the prospect of a Greater Canyonlands national monument, and pave the way for new development. Congressman Chaffetz addressed a large, mixed crowd that sported both “Sagebrush Rebel” T-shirts and “Protect Wild Utah” buttons.

Emily Stock, tar sands protest, civil disobedience

The recent demonstration and blocking of a road at the site of a proposed tar sands mine in the Book Cliffs area is part of a wave of direct actions across the country. What they have in common is the willingness of protestors to get arrested.

Southeast Utah has become the front lines in the battle against Tar Sands mining and the Keystone Pipeline. Last month, as in dozens of places across the country, activists in Utah conducted a direct action training camp, which culminated in the Book Cliffs action on July 29th. Among the ranks was Emily Stock, a Moab resident who has been working with a group called Canyon Country Rising Tide.

Jon Kovash

The Moab uranium cleanup is meant primarily to allay the concerns of downriver users of Colorado River water. But will the river ever become pristine again alongside the tailings site? Jon Kovash reports.

Jon Kovash

The Sierra Club, one of the oldest, largest and most influential environmental organizations in the US, has entered Utah politics in a big way. They started a national campaign that supports a proposed Greater Canyonlands. UPR's Jon Kovash reports.

Penshire Media

For years now the entrance to Moab at the Colorado River Bridge has been a vast construction site, but that will all change by this fall. UPR’s Jon Kovash reports.

It’s a $20 million project that will result in a new park and bicycle transit center, and three miles of bike path going up the Colorado River Canyon. Summer Roefaro is a transportation engineer and visiting bike scholar helping oversee things, and said he has a vision for the center.

Jon Kovash

The Moab uranium cleanup is expected to be completed in 2025, and then suddenly, the town will be 450 acres bigger. UPR’s Jon Kovash reports:

Wednesday evening about two dozen Moab residents gave their opinions on what can eventually be done with the uranium tailings and mill site, which is currently owned by the Department of Energy. Russ Von Koch chairs a local oversight committee for the cleanup.

In a five-week period two men have died near Moab who were engaging in a new extreme sport, back country rope swinging. As a result, the Bureau of Land Management is studying whether stricter rules should be in place. UPR's Jon Kovash reports.

The first death was on March 24, when a West Jordan man perished while rope swinging under Corona Arch, down river from Moab. On Sunday, Adam Jason Weber, also from the Salt Lake City area, died while rope swinging in nearby Day Canyon. Grand County Sheriff’s deputy Brent Pace was on the search and rescue team that responded  Sunday.