Dead snake costs transit system $1 million in San Francisco

The Associated Press
Saturday October 27, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Transit officials will have to pay more than $1 million for stopping construction on a project near the airport while wildlife officials investigated a rare dead snake found at the site. 

In all, $1.07 million will be paid by Bay Area Rapid Transit to Tutor-Saliba/Slattery, the construction company that was working near San Francisco International Airport. 

Work on the BART extension project was halted for 18 days after an endangered San Francisco garter snake was discovered dead at the site. 

The pencil-thin snake, which has a turquoise blue belly and vivid red and black stripes, is listed as endangered by the state. It also is found in parts of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, where it lives primarily in ponds, creeks, marshes and meadows. 

State Department of Fish and Game sleuths were unable to figure out who was responsible for the snake’s death, so BART will pay the bill for stopping construction. 

“Nobody has ever been able to find out what happened to the snake,” said BART spokesman Mike Healy. “There was no evidence that the contractor or anyone was directly at fault.” 

BART already has spent close to $6 million to comply with environmental laws. The transit agency captured and relocated 77 snakes during construction near wetlands in San Bruno. Those snakes have been returned to their original habitat. 

New safety standards were set after the dead garter snake was discovered. The speed limit in the construction area was slowed to 10 mph and workers now arrive at the site by bus rather than in their personal vehicles to limit snake squishings. 

Extending the BART transit line to San Francisco Airport is estimated to cost $1.48 billion and be completed by December 2002.