White's Ferry.

The owner of White’s Ferry on the Potomac River wants the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to exercise eminent domain over the private Virginia riverside property where the ferry from Montgomery County, Maryland, formally docked.

Chuck Kuhn, owner of JK Moving Services and one of the largest land owners in Loudoun County, bought the ferry last year with the aim of restoring the historic cable-ferry service between Leesburg and western Montgomery County. It was closed last December in a legal dispute with Rockland Farm, the owner of the land on the Virginia side of the river.

Kuhn told an overflow crowd in Poolesville Town Hall on Wednesday that he expects Loudoun County will eventually approve a government takeover of the private land so that the ferry can resume operations.

“I think we’re months away from having success with eminent domain, if you ask me. And, the moment we get control of that Virginia shoreline … it’s going to take us a matter of hours to get the cable reconnected and we’ll get the ferry moving,” Kuhn told the audience of mostly Poolesville residents.

Since the ferry closed, people on both sides of the river have complained about increased travel times of 30 minutes or more, now having to drive to Point of Rocks, Maryland, to cross the river between the counties.

Business leaders said businesses on both sides have also been hurt by the ferry shutdown.

Kuhn said that he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to negotiate a deal with Rockland Farm to allow the ferry to use the Virginia landing.

 Member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Caleb Kershner, of the Catoctin District, also addressed the meeting. He expects the board to receive the results of a joint Montgomery County-Loudoun County legal study on the prospects of using eminent domain to take the Rockland Farm property within the next month or two.

Libby Devlin, part owner and resident of Rockland Farm, released a statement Wednesday in which she said she was disappointed not to be invited to the Poolesville meeting. The community forum was denied a balanced view of the history and future of White’s Ferry, she said.

“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,” Devlin said in her written statement.

The absence of a Rockland Farm representative at the Poolesville meeting was noted by a Montgomery County farmer in attendance.

“Where are the landowners who own that side tonight? Were they given an opportunity to speak to share their side of what they’re trying to do to go forward, what compromises they’ve made?” said Eric “Flash” Hill of Calleva Farm in Dickerson, Maryland.

Hill said the ferry closure has had a particular impact on his wife, who commutes to a job at Dulles International Airport and had been using the ferry as a shorter route.

“She puts on another 25- to 30-minute commute each way by going up to Point of Rocks,” Hill said.

No one at the meeting expects the ferry to resume operations any time soon. But Kuhn promised Maryland residents that he’ll get the cable ferry moving again.

“I’ll make a commitment to myself and to everyone in this room that the ferry will run again,” Kuhn said.


(2) comments

A.B. Herman

Not exactly.

Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Loudoun County already has eminent domain over the property. They've held public title to the road leading to the ferry landing, and the landing itself, since 1871.

Rockland Farm had been trying to purchase the ferry and used repairs made the hurricane-damaged landing as an excuse to vacate its contract with the ferry's previous owners. Rockland demanded $2 million in damages and a substantial cut of the ferry's profits dating back to 2004.

Subsequent negotiations consisted of Rockland saying "Let us buy the ferry," the owners saying they didn't want to sell, and then Rockland responding with one monetary demand after another, each one more ridiculous than the last. Rockland never wanted a good-faith renegotiation of the two families' contract. They wanted the ferry.

I can understand the ferry's new owner having no appetite for playing contract renegotiation roulette with Rockland Farm every time they dispute the timing or cost of necessary repairs or demand more money per car. They've offered to buy the landing property and a road easement servicing it because they don't fancy sitting in expensive litigation for another decade.

The county's 150-year ownership of the land is a matter of public record. So the whole thing is obviously more complicated than "a wealthy fellow who likes to get his way." When a judge likely rules to reinstate the already existing eminent domain, Ms Devlin may end up wishing she'd left well enough alone.

Martha Polkey

Kuhn wants Loudoun to condemn the owner's property so that he doesn't have to pay to use the landing--and then the county will pay him to run it. Is this what condemnation is for? The private profit of a wealthy fellow who likes to get his way?

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