White's Ferry Detour

A line of traffic is shown on Route 15 at White’s Ferry Road in April, 2021.

As a study examining the impact caused by the closure of the historic White’s Ferry nears its conclusion, documents provided to the Times-Mirror shed light on behind-the-scenes attempts to negotiate an end to the deadlock which have so far been fruitless.

The attempt to negotiate an end to the impasse comes after county governments on both sides of the Potomac prepare to share the results of a study designed to evaluate land ownership and acquisition scenarios for the Virginia landing, as well as short- and long-term possibilities for resuming the ferry service.

The study is expected to be completed in September after a delay in selecting consultants for the project pushed back the timeline.

Libby Devlin, owner of the landing and manager of Rockland Farm LLC., said efforts by government officials to consider condemnation of the landing for the purpose of acquiring it for use by a private company is unfair and would set a dangerous precedent.

“If the ferry operator is going to continue to operate a profitable business to gain privately from that, it seems wrong to condemn private property for that purpose,” Devlin said.

The owner of the landing said she understands how important the ferry is to the public, which is why Devlin said she has tried to resolve the issue with Chuck Kuhn, co-owner of White’s Ferry.

Kuhn was provided five offers including a volume-based fee wherein White’s Ferry would pay Rockland 50-cents per vehicle that transits the landing, according to an Aug. 4 letter from Devlin.

Additionally, the letter also included offers for a flat fee arrangement that would have White’s Ferry pay Rockland an annual licensing fee of $150,000 for the use of the landing, a figure based on the oft-reported average of 600-1,000 vehicles-per-day volume multiplied by 50 cents.

Rockland also offered White’s Ferry a permanent easement for $2 million, the option of entering into binding arbitration, as well as the option for Rockland to purchase the ferry operation outright from Kuhn.

Kuhn said in a response on Aug. 11 — which he provided to the Times-Mirror — that the options are “not economically viable,” “unreasonable” and that he and his wife and co-owner, Stacy, are not willing to impose significant cost increases on Virginia and Maryland residents and ferry commuters.

Further, he said in his response that he has no intention of selling the ferry, according to the documents

Devlin asserts that the ferry service is profitable enough to absorb the cost of paying for access to the landing.

“You indicated in your letter that the ferry has been closed for far too long — we agree completely,” Kuhn said in the Aug. 11 to Devlin.

“Based on past history we (and the Brown family) have had with you, instead of rehashing old discussions we believe the best way to actually get a fair service restored between Loudoun County and Montgomery County for the common good at the greater region is for us to continue to work with directly with the counties on the efforts that they have jointly initiated, assist in any way we possibly can, and pursue that condemnation path to its ultimate conclusion,” he said in the letter.

Kuhn is scheduled to speak Wednesday evening regarding the ferry service during a 6:30 p.m. public forum in Poolsville, Maryland. The meeting will be in-person and livestreamed on the Town of Poolesville's web site.

The Town of Poolesville's Fair Access Committee for Western Montgomery County, Maryland, is sponsoring the community forum, which will address the future of White's Ferry and the impact of its closure on Poolesville and the Agricultural Reserve.

Devlin said neither she nor any other representatives of Rockland were invited to the forum.

“I don't know, if I showed up what would the whole thing turn into,” Devlin said.

“Would it be a circus or a tit for tat? I don’t know,” she said. “I think it might be better if I could try to get our message out another way, but if I was invited, I would certainly show up.”

In June, Rockland Farm started a Facebook page called “Save White’s Ferry.”

As previously reported, Loudoun County announced in April that it will study what options exist for enabling the resumption of the White’s Ferry service between Montgomery County, Maryland and Loudoun County, according to Loudoun officials.

The study, which represents a joint effort between the transportation departments in both counties, will be complete within 90 days of when outside consultants begin their work, officials said.

According to Glen Barbour, public affairs and communications officer, the study, which represents a joint effort between the transportation departments in both counties is expected to be completed in September. The consultants started in June.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is expected to hear from the Loudoun County Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure on the matter in October,. Officials will evaluate land ownership and acquisition scenarios for the Virginia landing, as well as short- and long-term possibilities for resuming the ferry service, officials said.

The scope of the study includes:

- Roadway access and ferry use along with any other pertinent transportation issues;

- Identifying legal and regulatory requirements associated with ferry operations;

- Landing site improvements and landing location options; and

- Operating alternatives that may include a public/private partnership.

Loudoun officials have said the ferry service across the Potomac River is recognized as an important part of the region’s transportation network. Officials said that prior to closing, White’s Ferry transported approximately 600 to 800 vehicles per day across the river and connected bicyclists and pedestrians between the two counties.

Prior to the study, the owners of Rockland Farm LLC and the Kuhns failed to reach an agreement, leaving the parties at an impasse and customers questioning the future of the historic ferry.

Before it was shuttered late last year, White’s Ferry transported vehicles across the river at a cost of $5 for a one-way ticket and $8 for round trip, according to the business’ Facebook page.

The ferry operation between Montgomery County, Maryland, and White’s Ferry Road in Loudoun County, has been closed since Christmas due to a broken cable and later to the land use dispute, which persists to this day.

(2) comments

jke

Eminent domain, eminent domain did the huckster say eminent domain? Instead of increases prices they will steal the property from the owners. Eminent domain is not to be used when you are bad at negotiating.

Mencken's View

Kuhn has profited handsomely from each purchase of farmland that he has put in easement--purchased at low prices, and then paid for placing them in easement. It does not wash that he can't afford to pay owners of the landing a reasonable fee. He is punishing Rockland's owners for refusing to sell the farm to him in 2019, and used the knowledge they provided about the ferry issue to step into the dispute. A shrewd businessman, he has convinced Loudoun staff that the only alternative is to condemn farmland for his personal benefit. Condemnation is the only option that county staff have presented, and Kuhn says he has bagged all the votes he needs from the Board of Supervisors. This is shameful.

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