SPRING HILL — Most summer afternoons you'll find George Pope on his back as paddles his way around the swimming hole at Holiday Springs RV Resort.
The water is always a refreshing 72 degrees and is constantly replenished by a small spring on the south end just below a concrete mermaid fountain.
To the residents of the RV park off U.S. 19 and close by the Pasco County line, the freshwater spring is a source of pride and beauty, and a rare jewel in Hernando County.
They also believe it is a precious resource in need of government protection, something they hope to achieve in the coming weeks through a new rule they feel could head off an environmental catastrophe.
Named for a man whose importance is lost to local history, Bob Hill Spring is a third-magnitude spring that sends more that a cubic foot of water per second and feeds a winding creek on its way to a 3-acre private lake on the northern edge of the 35-acre property.
"I know people who swear it helps their arthritis better than any painkiller," said Pope, 76, a Michigan transplant who has lived at the park for four years.
But residents fear the spring could be in trouble if a proposed commercial plaza that includes plans for an automotive-related business is built. The close proximity of gasoline, oil, solvents and chemicals, they say, spell potential disaster. That's why residents at the park have been pushing for Hernando County to better protect not just their spring, but others in the county as well.
For the past nine months, Pope and other residents have become regulars at any government meeting where discussion of the spring has been scheduled.
"We feel very passionate about this," offered Pope. "We were determined to get something done."
On Aug. 9, the county Planning and Zoning Board will discuss an amendment to the county's environmental code to prevent the construction of auto-related businesses such as tire shops, oil change stations and carwashes, electroplating, or the installation of underground fuel tanks within 500 feet of all special protection areas.
According to planning director Ron Pianta, existing business would not be affected unless they were going to expand.
The amendment, if approved by the planning board, would then go to the County Commission for final approval.
For Holiday Springs manager Clyde Day, the new restrictions just might serve to avert an irreversible catastrophe.
"Just look at how quickly the gulf oil spill got out of hand," Day said. "By the time they figured out what happened, there was nothing they could do about it. People who live here would never get over something like that."
Holiday Springs resident Bob Earl, 68, said working in the automotive industry most of his life taught him that even the most conscientious mechanics make mistakes.
"It's bound to happen," he said. "A barrel falls over or a valve gets left open accidentally. The next thing you know you've got gallons of stuff running everywhere."
For now, the proposed automotive services plaza that worried the Holiday Springs residents appears dead. Pianta said the project was rejected last year for zoning reasons.
Todd Pressman, a representative of the RV park, said that although he felt the county could have taken even bolder steps to protect natural springs, he was pleased with the recommendations going before the Planning and Zoning Board. He was even more pleased that the Holiday Springs residents enthusiastically backed the effort.
"I think the victory here belongs to the residents," Pressman said. "They attended every meeting we had, and they stuck with it all the way."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.