Amid deadlock, Montgomery and Loudoun officials say White’s Ferry is essential

Amid a lingering standoff between the owners of White’s Ferry and the Virginia shore landing, officials in Montgomery and Loudoun counties are urging a resolution due to practical necessity. But the answer to the conflict remains unclear.

White’s Ferry, which has served Montgomery and Loudoun counties since the 1700s, closed in December 2020 after a Loudoun County judge ruled in a lawsuit that the ferry could no longer land on the Virginia side .

The decision was the result of a lawsuit in which the owner of Rockland Farm, where the landing is located, claimed that White’s Ferry violated a 1952 agreement by replacing a retaining wall in 2004. The owner of Rockland Farm said that the wall was on his property, while the ferry owners argued that it was part of the public right of way.

The ferry’s new owner, Chuck Kuhn, and Rockland negotiated for several months, but did not come up with a deal. Kuhn lobbied for a prominent estate, the taking of private land for public use, but this approach was rejected by Rockland owner Libby Devlin.

Loudoun County officials have not taken a firm position on whether to get involved, Loudoun Now reported on Tuesday.

Last week, Montgomery and Loudoun counties released a study they jointly commissioned looking at various options to get the ferry back to service and make infrastructure improvements. The report does not specify which option should be followed.

According to Kyle Lukacs, a planning specialist with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, the trip through the Potomac from Leesburg, Va. To Poolesville went from 24.7 miles with the ferry to 41.7 miles without.

Montgomery County officials pointed out in a virtual forum Wednesday night that White’s Ferry is a “vital transportation” link across the Potomac River.

Lukacs told the forum on Wednesday that in 2019, the eastbound journey increases by eight minutes, from with the ferry to without a ferry (58.5 minutes to 67.3 minutes). Projections up to 2040 show that the eastbound trip would be 11 minutes longer without the ferry than with the ferry (76.1 minutes without, compared to 65 minutes with).

The time it takes to travel from Poolesville to Leesburg with the ferry includes 15 non-driving minutes spent traveling on the ferry, Lukacs said.

Lukacs added that time estimates will vary depending on where the ferry travelers live.

“Our estimates covered all ferry users. So if, for example, you live closer to Point of Rocks, the impact of closing the ferry will be a little less than if you live further south of Leesburg, ”he said.

Lukacs said the ferry benefits wineries, bed and breakfasts and historic sites in the area. Without it, about $ 6 million in unrealized trips are lost each year, he said.

Chris Arndt commented in the Zoom chat during Wednesday’s meeting that he used to attend Washington Spirit football games when the team played their games in Germantown. The team has since started playing at Leesburg, which is less convenient for him without the ferry.

“Even though the Spirit are now playing for the championship, I haven’t been in a game yet,” he wrote in the chat. “Simply put, the trip without White’s Ferry is not worth it. It’s too long and stressful. So, there was a real cost due to the closure of the ferry from missed trips which would have definitely benefited Loudoun County and the Spirit organization. (The Spirit won their league championship on Saturday.)

A Washington Spirit spokesperson did not respond to a question from Bethesda Beat on Thursday about whether he had a position on White’s Ferry.

Hannah Henn, deputy director of the transportation department for transportation policy, said on Wednesday that county director Marc Elrich told the Loudoun County Supervisory Board on Tuesday that people were struggling to move between the two counties for recreational purposes.

“We now have solid information to help elected officials understand that this is really a transit connection,” she said.

Sherwin Wells, a resident of Montgomery County, asked at the meeting if it would be more efficient to build another bridge over the Potomac instead of focusing on the ferry.

State Representative David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-District 15) responded by saying that a bridge would take at least a decade to build and the need for transportation is more immediate.

“We need to get people to come and go on this ferry as soon as possible. So even having a conversation on a bridge is probably a 15-20 year business, ”he said.

It is not yet clear how or when the dispute over the ferry will be resolved.

Kuhn told Bethesda Beat last week that he believed a prominent area thanks to government intervention was the only way to restart the ferry.

But Devlin said in a statement to Bethesda Beat on Thursday that she attended the Loudoun County meeting on Tuesday and came away with a different feeling.

“At the Loudoun meeting, we saw that most of the board members and many citizens of Loudoun County much prefer that the parties solve the problem in private without resorting to the eminent domain,” he said. -she stated in the press release.

“Rockland has been asking from the start to find a private solution, but the negotiations require two parties. Unfortunately, the prospect of using a prominent estate to take our landing rather than paying a fair fee for its use deterred White’s Ferry from sitting down with us. We hope that following this week’s meetings, White’s Ferry can reassess its position and begin talks with us to reopen the ferry.

Devlin added that Rockland is also willing to go to binding arbitration with White’s Ferry and involve a third-party mediator in resolving the dispute.

Phyllis Randall, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Thursday that she personally did not want to take a prominent estate off the table, but was “not ready to take this action for now “. “

“Basically, this is a matter between two private parties. I am reluctant to government intervention, ”she wrote.

Dan Schere can be contacted at [email protected]

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