Nonprofit says Frog Ferry dream still alive despite lack of support from Portland commissioners, TriMet

The dream to bring a public ferry to Portland is still alive despite a lack of support from city commissioners and TriMet.
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 12:14 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - The dream to bring a public ferry to Portland is still alive despite a lack of support from city commissioners and TriMet.

Last week, commissioners voted against giving over $200,000 to the nonprofit in charge of the project after TriMet accused its employees of inappropriate spending practices. Now, the nonprofit is asking commissioners to reconsider their decision.

Friends of Frog Ferry has been working for years to bring a public ferry to Portland, but they say it won’t happen until they get support from city commissioners and TriMet. So far, they said their meetings with both have not been constructive.

“We have nothing to hide. There has absolutely been no misappropriation of funding whatsoever.”

That’s what Susan Bladholm, founder of Friends of Frog Ferry, had to say about TriMet’s previous claim that the nonprofit had inappropriate spending and building practices. Bladholm claims they provided over a 130 documents to TriMet, but that TriMet continuously changed the way it requests documentation.

TriMet sent FOX 12 a letter they sent to Friends of Frog Ferry, detailing the financial indiscretions, they say, were made in expense reports by the nonprofit.

Officials said the nonprofit submitted expense reports to them for reimbursement through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund - a fund allocated to TriMet by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Officials said Friends of Frog Ferry submitted expenses for pro-bono work, or work that was done for them for free. TriMet said when they denied reimbursement, Friends of Frog Ferry resubmitted invoices without indicating work that was done pro-bono.

TriMet said red flags were raised about Bladholm’s salary as well. Bladholm refutes any wrongdoing.

“In terms of my billings, I stand behind that. I’m billing at half my typical rate,” she said. “I feel very good about so much of the effort and the work we’ve done at a very, very low cost.”

On April 13, Friends of Frog Ferry requested City Council allocate $225,000 in funds to keep their project afloat. The majority of commissioners voted no, including transportation commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.

Commissioner Hardesty released a statement to FOX 12, saying:

“As I stated when I joined my colleagues Commissioner Ryan and Commissioner Rubio in voting against this budget allocation, we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars and need to wait until the legal accusations being made between TriMet and Frog Ferry are resolved before we consider further investing in this specific organization.

A regional ferry system is an exciting idea, and my office has been involved in numerous efforts to push this vision forward. I was supportive of the first city allocation of funding in 2019. My team worked with PBOT to sponsor a Federal Transit Authority grant. We have had numerous discussions with Metro about the best path forward for getting the Frog Ferry on the Regional Transportation Plan, and most recently we had started work on the possibility of having PBOT sponsor Frog Ferry for another grant request for money specifically earmarked in the infrastructure bill for ferry systems. That work only paused when TriMet and Frog Ferry started telling my office directly conflicting things and leveling very serious accusations at one another. I could not in good conscience support this budget allocation until we have clarity on the situation.”

Bladholm said without a partnership with City Council, they can not apply for the federal funds necessary to complete the project. She is hoping Friends of Frog Ferry is given the opportunity to clear its name.

“Now it’s really up for City Council to step up in a meaningful way. They’ve said they have questions, and we say invite us back to City Council, let’s address those questions,” Bladholm said.

TriMet said its decisions regarding Friends of Frog Ferry expenses that will not be reimbursed are final. The contract between the two will end on June 30. TriMet said it does not anticipate to enter into an extension.

The nonprofit hopes to bring a public ferry to Portland by the end of 2023. That ferry would hold up to 70 passengers and would run from Vancouver to Oregon City.