There goes the neighborhood

  -We're basically Middle America, except we're off the grid," says Diane Mitsch-Bush, a longtime resident of Steamboat Springs, Colo. Her neighborhood, only a few miles from the center of town, has powered itself with solar and propane energy since the early 1980s.


But Mitsch-Bush and other residents say their low-key and environmentally conscious lifestyle is about to change. Jim Mann, the president and CEO of SunGard Data Systems in Pennsylvania, has decided that the neighborhood is a perfect place for the 21,000-square-foot house he plans to retire in. Through letters and press coverage, the seven families in the area have tried to convince Mann not to bring utility power into the neighborhood, urging him to build a smaller house and use only solar power and propane.


"When you come up here at night, it's dark. The Milky Way is incredible," says Mitsch-Bush. "But when I asked (Mann) if he'd seen it, he said "I really haven't been up there at night." He doesn't get it." She says she and her neighbors also reject electric lines because the source - the coal-fired Hayden power plant - spews pollution into nearby wilderness.


Mann did look into other options for his house, but decided that solar power for such a large house would be impossibly expensive.


"The reaction is far more emotional and intense than I would have imagined," said Mann, speaking on a cell phone from a train traveling between Philadelphia and New York City.


Construction on the house has begun, and construction of the power line is expected to begin this month. "We'll try not to look at it," says Mitsch-Bush, who will be Mann's next-door neighbor. "But we're concerned about the larger issues. This is an example of what's happening in the whole county."


*Michelle Nijhuis