2021 | Transportation

Montgomery, Loudoun will jointly explore other ways of reopening White’s Ferry

One option is moving the landing on the Virginia side

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Montgomery and Loudoun counties have teamed for a joint study on expediting the reopening of White’s Ferry, a transportation link across the Potomac River.

The counties are contracting with consultants to conduct the study, which will start within the next month, Montgomery County Transportation Director Chris Conklin said. The study will last 90 days, and its recommendations will be listed in a publicly available report, he said.

Hannah Henn, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County’s transportation department, said each county has committed to spend $100,000 on the study.

White’s Ferry, which has connected the two counties since the late 1700s, ceased operations in late December following an ongoing legal dispute between the ferry’s owners and Rockland Farm, a historic estate near Leesburg, Va. (not to be confused with Rocklands Farm Winery in Poolesville)

Rockland Farm, which owns the land where the landing is, claimed in a lawsuit that White’s Ferry violated a 1952 agreement by replacing a retaining wall in 2004 because it was on their property. White’s Ferry argued that the wall was part of the public right-of-way.

When a Loudoun County judge ruled in November that the ferry couldn’t land in Virginia, the ferry stopped running a month later.

In February, JK Moving Services owner Chuck Kuhn bought White’s Ferry. But negotiations between Kuhn and the Rockland Farm owners have stalled. Kuhn told Loudoun Now this month that it might be 10 months before the ferry resumes operations.

On Wednesday, Montgomery County announced that its transportation department is partnering with Loudoun County to study ways of getting the ferry running again. Components of the study include:

  • Roadway access and ferry use, along with other transportation issues
  • Legal and regulatory requirements
  • Landing site improvements and alternative locations for a landing
  • A possible public-private partnership

One option for restarting the ferry is for Loudoun County, through land acquisition, to “support reestablishing a connection on the Virginia side,” according to a press release.

Conklin told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that local governments, such as Loudoun and Montgomery, can “acquire land for public purpose” if they determine that restarting the ferry is in the public interest.

“This situation could fall into that realm. There’s also the possibility that the ferry landing on the Virginia side might be moved off the Rockland Farm property to allow it to be restored. So, those are some of the things that we would look at,” he said.

Conklin said both counties would prefer that Kuhn and Rockland Farm resolve their differences, but the counties “might need to take other action.”

“That doesn’t mean we want to quash anybody else’s business interest, but it may be backed by us in some way, and that may help also justify the investment or expense to adjust the Virginia landing or acquire property for the Virginia landing or meet other business terms that might allow the ferry to get running again,” he said.

Conklin said that only Loudoun County can decide to move the landing or acquire the current one, but the two county governments will discuss the ideas first.

“That’s why we’re doing [the study] together. Because there may be changes that are needed from Montgomery County, and there may be changes in Loudoun. … We can’t dictate to Loudoun County what they do and vice versa,” Conklin said.

When the ferry was running, it carried 600 to 800 vehicles per day across the river, according to Montgomery County estimates. Conklin said the study will look at its importance to the community.

“There may be the need for the public to intervene and get the service started. That could mean a public operation. It could mean moving one or the other landings. And in order to justify those sorts of actions, we need to know, what is the value this provides?” he said.

Montgomery County Council Member Andrew Friedson, whose district includes the Maryland White’s Ferry landing, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that the study is a “very positive step” in working toward reopening the ferry.

“This is a critical transportation link, which has stood for centuries, which plays an essential role in the region for residents on both sides of the river,” he said.

“The disruption of the closure of the ferry has had a significant and detrimental impact on our residents, and it has highlighted the need for this critical transportation link.”

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com