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Friday, Oct. 26, 2001

When California officials found a garter snake lying dead at a construction site, alarm bells rang and state officials scurried around while all work was shut down for over two weeks to unlock the mystery surrounding the tiny serpent's death.

The construction delay at San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system airport extension project cost a whopping $1.04 million.

According to reporter Aaron Davis, finding the snake, which is listed as a member of one of those precious endangered species without which mankind cannot survive, sparked an investigation to determine the cause of the snake's death by the sleuths at California's Department of Fish and Game.

Writing in the Mercury News, Davis reported that the lost time and wages added up to over $1 million.

"Nobody has ever been able to find out what happened to the snake, and there was no evidence of foul play," BART spokesman Mike Healy told the Mercury News. "There was no evidence that the contractor or anyone was directly at fault."

Healy added that BART has spent nearly $6 million to comply with environmental laws. That included the cost of rounding up 77 snakes and relocating them during construction. They have since been brought back home to slither around their native habitat to their heart's content.

The $1.04 million expense, Davis reported, is just a tiny fraction of the nearly $50 million already spent out of the $69 million BART set aside for unforeseen costs in the extension.

The BART line to San Francisco Airport is due to open in December 2002 at a total cost of $1.48 billion, providing no more dead garter snakes show up around the digs.

No plans were announced for a memorial service for the world's most expensive garter snake, or for the taxpayers who got stuck with the bill for the post-mortem costs.
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