State Police sweep the Charles River at Kendrck St. for ordnance/ Credit: Needham Police Dept.

Divers from the Massachusetts State Police searched the Charles River around the Kendrick Street bridge on Monday looking for unexploded military ordnance, but found none. It was a precautionary measure in the wake of the recent discovery of two such items by people who were magnet fishing. Needham Police and Fire assisted with the operation, which Deputy Police Chief Chris Baker said they hoped would bring some peace of mind.

Although the World War I- and II-era projectiles were an unusual find for a magnet fishing hobbyist using powerful magnets attached to ropes to find metal objects in water, they are a common find in the cleanup of Formerly Used Defense Sites, or FUDS. These properties were used for training service members and testing weapons prior to 1986. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the environmental restoration of the thousands of FUDS across the country, including one nearby in Watertown.

But that’s not where this ordnance came from, according to Bryan Purtell, public affairs officer for the Army Corps of Engineers New England District. “Upon a high-level review of the locations, the FUDS GSA (General Services Administration) Watertown site was not determined to be the source of the ordnance rounds identified by the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad in Needham,” he said.

MSP Marine Unit found no ordnance in search of Charles River/ Credit: Needham Police Dept.

Beyond the public safety issues involved with the recent finds, magnet fishers say they are helping clean up the river. But disturbing the water’s habitat is another consideration, said Dira Johanif, a senior climate resilience associate with the Charles River Watershed Association. 

“To some extent there is definitely a benefit, folks doing magnet fishing and finding things that don’t belong in the river,” she said. “But there’s always a safety concern that there might be things that are more sensitive in the river that shouldn’t be moved around.”

Johanif said when man-made objects end up in rivers or oceans sometimes animals will use them to create habitats. “If you’re talking about things that have been left in the river for a really long time, sometimes those materials do become kind of adapted by the animals in the river to become places that, maybe fish lay eggs in or things like that,” she said. “So there are definitely a lot of different considerations.”

The Charles River Watershed Association advocates for the protection and restoration of the river and watershed and has found many unique items in their cleanups, but no ordnance. “I’ve seen people come up from our annual river cleanup with doll houses … a driver of a cleanup boat told me he finds a lot of parking tickets in the river,” said Johanif.

“Historically in our cleanups we do find a lot of tire parts, a lot of car parts as well,” she said, but that has changed over time. “We don’t see it anymore where people are especially throwing larger items into the river.” Now she says the big issue is plastic bottles and general litter, things her organization works to educate people about to be more aware of what they do with their trash.

“I think there has been a lot of change over time in the way that people view the river, no longer as something that we can just dispose of things in anymore,” she said. “There’s a lot more respect and understanding that we have to take care of our water bodies.”

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