The owner of a country park enclave in Sai Kung has been asked to restore an unlawfully excavated area where an outdoor environmental education centre is set to open next month.
But the centre's manager says the illegal work was a mistake by an "overenthusiastic" contractor.
The excavation at Pak Lap - dubbed "Hong Kong's Maldives" by some environmentalists for its pristine beach - created a 50-metre-long trench now filled with water on one side of an abandoned paddy field.
Pak Lap is one of 54 pockets of land within or adjacent to country parks that were found last year to lack planning controls to protect them from development.
The work is being considered a breach of an interim zoning plan introduced for Pak Lap and some of the other pockets in September after an outcry over damage to another picturesque piece of Sai Kung coast.
The Planning Department said it had already issued enforcement and reinstatement notices to private company Master Mind Development to rectify the unauthorised development.
But some green activists are worried the zoning plan lacks the teeth to stop further degradation of the site.
They said there had been many previous instances of damage to the site - mostly privately owned - over the past few years, little of which appeared to have been corrected. "We cannot tolerate that someone can just walk away after causing such damage. Otherwise there will be more copycats," James Wong-ming, from Friends of Sai Kung, said.
The green group has been working with Green Power and Eco-Education and Resources to assess the development threats to the 28 country park enclaves in Sai Kung. They said Pak Lap's ecology could be even richer if it had not been damaged.
The groups made a video on a Sunday in April showing a truck and a bulldozer driving across the protected beach onto a barge anchored there. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it had not issued a permit for movement across the beach.
Dave Wilson, general manager of the Environment and Outdoor Centre at the site, said yesterday the excavation was a mistake by workers who ignored his instructions just to remove the weeds and clear overgrown areas of the stream. "If I had a gun, I would have shot the person who did this," he said.
Wilson said the work was done while he was travelling in Nepal a few months ago and he could not fill it in now due to the enforcement action.
Wilson said he had nothing to do with the previous works at the site and he only learned about the disputes between the green activists and his employer after he entered into a three-year employment contract with Master Mind Development director Dorothy Wong Sung-king.
Wong wanted to build a boarding school at Pak Lap but changed her plan last year to organising outdoor education programmes.
Wilson said he started last year to create a wetland and minimise flooding risk by breaking up part of a reservoir to divert rainwater to a stream and nearby green field.
Wilson still plans to plant a bamboo forest and establish an organic farm, paddy field and woodland of local species, even though the centre's first students are due in just over a month.
Two houses near the beach are being turned into a changing room, a kitchen and a meeting room. All visitors will have to camp on the beach.
His employer, who owns more than 200 lots in the area, has budgeted of HK$4 million for the business that he says could bring in up to HK$15 million a year by charging students 4,000 yuan (HK$4,800) for five-day courses on the environment, Hakka culture and survival skills.
Meanwhile, the Buildings Department said it would take no further enforcement action on new building work at Sai Wan - the Sai Kung enclave that sparked last year's row - after its contractor concluded that the work was not unauthorised.
This follows an investigation after it received information from the Lands Department, which said last week that enforcement action was being taken.
1. Dave Wilson, from the Environment and Outdoor Centre in Pak Lap, says the unauthorised excavation was a mistake by workers.
2. View of an artificial lake in Pak Lap, Sai Kung.
3. A trench in an abandoned paddy field in Pak Lap, Sai Kung, that has been excavated unauthorisedly, is allegedly just a mistake committed by Dave Wilson's workers of the Environment and Outdoor Centre in Pak Lap during his leave.