A Collector plumber has outbid a multinational, multimillion dollar energy company to be this year’s primary sponsor of the Collector Pumpkin Festival, as the divisive issue of wind farming continues to split the small NSW community.
Zoltan Hegyi, who has lived in Collector for about 20 years, said he increased his financial sponsorship of the festival by more than 10 times, from $300 to $3500, to snare the event’s main billing and take it back from wind farm and energy company RATCH Australia.
RATCH, previously Transfield, wants NSW planning approval for a 63-turbine wind farm on the Cullerin Range between the Hume Highway and the Collector-Gunning Road.
Mr Hegyi, who runs Zol’s Country Plumbing, has sponsored the pumpkin festival every year since it began, but said he did not like seeing RATCH’s signage all over the event last year, and decided to ”put my money where my mouth was”.
“I didn’t like the fact that they were sort of promoting their product at our festival, which I have supported for 10 years, so I decided to come over the top of them and become the major sponsor,” Mr Hegyi said.
“I didn’t like the fact that their signs were everywhere … to me, I would think that other people would get the impression that the locals don’t mind that happening, which is not the case at all.
”The money’s going to a good cause, it goes back into the village, so I don’t mind helping out that way.”
The festival, started 10 years ago with a few stalls, is the highlight of Collector’s calendar, and with more than 100 stalls it brings crowds of about 8000 people to the tiny town.
Mr Hegyi’s decision to trump the energy company was supported by local resident and anti-wind farm activist Lizzy Granger, who, along with other locals, decided to use the festival this year as a platform to protest the proposed Collector Wind Farm.
Ms Granger said Collector residents opposed to the wind farm would be wearing protest T-shirts at the festival, and she said there was some nervousness in the community about drawing attention to the issue.
“They have been reassured that by no means is this to overshadow the festival,” she said. “The pumpkin festival itself is still going to be a great day, and we’re encouraging everyone to come along.”
But she said the festival committee’s president, local beekeeper, farmer, and wind farm supporter Gary Poile, should not have accepted any sponsorship from RATCH.
“It’s a conflict of interest, because I think if town people knew that RATCH were putting up sponsorship money, then people would have rallied together and raised the money themselves and put it in, rather than have RATCH be a sponsor,” she said. “It’s really divided the town, big time.”
But Mr Poile said the festival was a non-political event, and that it has always accepted money from energy companies.
“We don’t support or oppose the wind farm,” he said. “Traditionally we’ve had sponsors from wind farms and energy companies since we started.
“It’s been part of the culture of the event. It’s only in the last 12 months that it’s become a bit political.
“As a committee, it’s not something on the radar. We need sponsorship and businesses are happy to support, and if they’re happy to support us we’re happy to work with them.”
Mr Poile welcomed Mr Hegyi’s increased sponsorship, and said it was “fantastic to have locals on board”.
He said while he helped get sponsorship, he denied a conflict of should the project go through.
”If anyone wants to go down that path, they haven’t come to a meeting and said that. The thing is, it’s a community-run event, and the community are invited … to voice their concerns, or their support, and have their say,” Mr Poile said.
He had no problems with residents who wanted to take part in the T-shirt protest, and said he did not believe the issue would overshadow the event.
RATCH’s Collector Wind Farm project manager Anthony Yeates said he was not aware the company’s sponsorship had been outbid, but welcomed the extra community involvement.
”I’m glad that people are sponsoring the festival. It’s an important festival for the community there,” he said.
Mr Yeates said he was not aware of the planned protest, but RATCH knew of opposition and had worked to address any concerns.
RATCH has sponsored the event for three years, which Mr Yeates said was part of the company’s commitment to invest in a community where it hoped to operate.
NSW Planning and Infrastructure is assessing the $350 million project.
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