As everyone settles in, Jim makes a few introductory remarks, and then hands the floor over to me. I take a deep breath and plunge into my explanation of the cumulative effects analysis. I use the braille notes to keep my place, and I can almost feel everyone's fingers on my corresponding words in the packet, lingering over the bumps and ridges, gathering meaning from the familiar textures without thinking about the messenger, only the message.
Cumulative effects analyses are the most complicated analyses we do in Environmental Impact Statements, the NEPA analyses required before deciding on any significant Federal government action. You basically have to determine what everyone else is doing, what the overall impact of everyone else's will be, and how your project will impact that overall impact. It's like trying to figure out ahead of time what will happen if your instrument joins in with a jam session already in progress. Will your instrument bend the tune in a new direction? Will it blend in with the overall harmony? Will your sound tip the whole thing over the edge and into chaos?
So I went over the steps in our cumulative effects analysis strategy slowly and stopped at each key juncture to listen
for anyone's bells to raise a question or an objection.
I wonder about their reactions to my points. I'll have no way of knowing until they say or braille something. Can they live with this approach? Do they maybe even like it? Or is there some objection? Would we have to come up with some other more complex approach to satisify the legal and political demands, even though the technical analyses don't require it?
As I go slowly over the range of spatial and temporal boundaries of the associated indirect impacts, Ken rings his speaking bell (CoffeeBright 1764) to politely interrupt me. But he doesn't say his name. Rude anywhere else, this doesn't surprise us here. We government folks, unlike fashionable industries like stock brokers or real estate or some fast-paced start-up company, rarely--if ever--change the sounds on our bells. After a while, we don't even bother with the "It's Jane" as people just know who it is. We once had a rotten new boss who had the same ring as our faithful secretary Donna and she had to change her bell tone from Perky729 to Perky9346 just because he had had his at Perky729 since the ring was issued and was damned if he was going to change. It took her weeks to get over it. My bell is PixieDust144, which people say is a trifle unprofessional, but I have had it ever since first grade and I have always loved the sound. I don't think any of my friends would recognize me if I changed my bell, so I probably never will. Besides, I think the office needs a bit of cheer and tone--it always lightens the mood to hear such a childish laugh ring out in our somber confines.
Ken asks about the approach to integrating urban development growth impacts in the downstream reaches. I hear Brian's sharp intake of breath and say quickly that Brian's hydrological analyses cover that aspect and turn it politely over to Brian to answer, before Brian can ring his bell to speak. Brian handles Ken's questions adroitly, keeping Ken's main points up on the master brailler screen and countering each one carefully, using Ken's own language where he can. Ken agrees with Brian's approach to analyzing the issues and admits that, for once, what we have developed will be acceptable to the state and he looks forward to working out the details without going to court over the analyses. Together, we can address the growing water crises and create a future for the state and nation. A bit overblown, but if someone is pontificating on something you want to do, why stop them?
I breathe a sigh of relief. Things will work out just fine.