POOLESVILLE, Md. — Montgomery and Loudoun County residents met to discuss the future of White's Ferry Wednesday.
The ferry service, between Poolesville, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia, discontinued in late 2020 following a legal battle between the ferry's operators in Montgomery County and the locals who own the shoreline in Loudoun County where the ferries dock.
A Loudoun County circuit court ruled that no public space existed on the Virginia shoreline, so the ferry was technically prohibited from operating there.
In February, Loudoun County business owner Chuck Kuhn bought the White's Ferry property in Maryland from its previous owners.
In a meeting with Poolesville residents at the community's town hall Wednesday, Kuhn said he initially hoped he could negotiate an agreement with the owners of the Virginia shoreline to get ferry service back up and running across the Potomac.
However, Kuhn said those efforts ultimately did not work. So, he is encouraging Loudoun County officials to pursue eminent domain of the Virginia shoreline property once they complete a study analyzing the future use of White's Ferry.
"If the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, after they review the study that they've commenced, supports eminent domain, we will get control of the Virginia shoreline and this ferry will open," Kuhn said.
He added he believes Loudoun County officials will move to obtain the property.
"I'm very confident that the board in Loudoun County understands the importance of this ferry to Loudoun County commerce," Kuhn said.
Neither Kuhn nor Loudoun County Supervisor Caleb Kershner could offer an exact timeline as to when ferry service could be restored if eminent domain is used on the Virginia shoreline site.
However, Kershner said he was hopeful ferry service would be restored soon. He told Poolesville residents the ferry's closure has added cars to an already clogged Route 15 in Virginia.
"Route 15, for those of you who have driven over to Loudoun, carries 26,000 to 27,000 cars per day, at least pre-COVID," he said. "That particular road is only engineered for approximately 12,000 cars [per day]."
Kershner also said many people are having to drive up to an additional 45 minutes one way to get to either side of the river due to the ferry service's closure.
Poolesville resident Katie Stowers said she would like to see service at White's Ferry resume too. She said the closure has hurt some of the Montgomery County town's businesses.
"It makes a huge impact on our town," she said.
Rockland Farm owns the Virginia shoreline that is currently in dispute. WUSA9 reached out to the farm for comment Wednesday. It provided the following statement:
“I’m disappointed that Rockland Farm was not invited to participate in tonight’s meeting so attendees could have a balanced discussion about the history and the future of White’s Ferry, which has been part of our farm for almost seven decades. It’s upsetting that the citizens of Montgomery and Loudoun counties have had to suffer without this important regional transportation service due to White’s Ferry’s refusal to work with us to update a nearly 70-year-old contract for the use of our landing. Instead, White’s Ferry has chosen to work behind the scenes, lobbying the government to condemn our private property. The government’s exercise of eminent domain should not be used as a tool for a private enterprise’s financial gain.
“The closure of the ferry is a result of White’s Ferry’s decision not to resume operation. To be clear, Rockland has never closed the ferry: Not when White’s Ferry breached our long-standing agreement in 2004 and not when the Court ruled in November 2020 that White’s Ferry had been trespassing.
“We have made numerous proposals to the new owner to restore ferry service under arrangements fair to both parties, which have been completely disregarded by the Ferry’s owner. We want the Ferry open immediately and have recently sent a letter to the new owner with copies to Loudoun County officials and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors detailing five ways that can happen. We have also made an offer to dedicate to either Loudoun or Montgomery County a permanent easement for our landing. Any of these options would get the ferry back in operation again without delay, without any cost to taxpayers, and without the need for an unjust condemnation of our private property.
“Tonight the town of Poolesville will give White’s Ferry a platform to deliver only one side of the story. Rockland Farm wants to make it known that we want the Ferry open now and have been making every effort to make that happen in a way that is reasonable and fair to both sides.”