2021 | Transportation

White’s Ferry owner pledges to reopen next year, but he’s not sure how

With government study underway, eminent domain might be an option

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A meeting in Poolesville Wednesday night on the future of White’s Ferry was well-attended.

Photos by Dan Schere

Before a standing-room-only crowd at Poolesville Town Hall on Wednesday, the new owner of White’s Ferry made a promise that was greeted with applause.

“The ferry will run again,” Chuck Kuhn proclaimed during a public forum on the ferry’s future.

Kuhn, the owner of JK Moving Services, bought White’s Ferry in February in an attempt to re-start the Montgomery-to-Loudoun County connection that has been around since the 1700s. The ferry carries 600 to 800 vehicles per day across the Potomac River.

An ongoing legal dispute between White’s Ferry and the owner of the Virginia landing, the historic estate Rockland Farm, led to the closure of the ferry in December 2020.

Rockland (not to be confused with Rocklands Farm Winery in Poolesville) argued that the ferry violated a 1952 agreement by replacing a retaining wall on its property in 2004. White’s Ferry’s owners argued that it was part of the public right-of-way.

Kuhn said during Wednesday’s meeting that despite his attempts to break the stalemate with the Rockland owners, he now has “zero optimism” that the negotiations will be successful.

“I don’t think it’s a good use of time. I don’t think it’s a good use of funds,” he said. “I’ve exhausted my abilities to be successful there. Whether it’s trying to purchase the farm, whether it’s trying to purchase a reasonable landing right, reasonable terms …”

Kuhn said he now hopes the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors can find another solution for reopening the ferry, possibly through eminent domain.

Montgomery and Loudoun counties have partnered on a study of the ferry that began in June and is expected to conclude next month. The study is examining:

  • 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

Montgomery County Transportation Director Chris Conklin told Bethesda Beat in April that possible solutions include moving the Virginia landing off the Rockland property or acquiring the land.

White’s Ferry Owner Chuck Kuhn.

Loudoun County Supervisor Caleb Kershner told Bethesda Beat after Wednesday’s meeting that an information item is scheduled to come before the board this fall, following the conclusion of the study.

“The information item is what our options will be. I’m sure eminent domain is one of those that will be on the table,” he said.

Five of the nine supervisors would have to approve an option, Kershner said. If eminent domain were selected as the option, the matter could potentially go to court, he said.

Impact on the community

During Wednesday night’s meeting, hosted by Poolesville’s Fair Access for Western Montgomery County Committee, advocates spoke about how the ferry’s shutdown eight months ago has affected the community.

Tom Kettler, the president of the Poolesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said he knows of many people who work in the Virginia communities of Herndon and Reston that relied on the ferry. With the shutdown, those commuters now must use the U.S. 15 bridge over the Potomac at Point of Rocks in Frederick County instead, he said — about 14 miles from Poolesville.

Kettler said he has spoken with business owners in Poolesville who relied on traffic from the ferry. Their business is down about 20% since the shutdown, he said.

“It really has had a very real and serious impact, and from a business perspective, the ferry can’t open soon enough,” he said.

Chuck Copeland, the pastor of Hosanna Community Church in Poolesville, said the shutdown was a “shock to the community.” He lives on White’s Ferry Road and said there are currently periods when he sees no traffic for up to 15 minutes.

Copeland said that one time, his youngest daughter, then 20, was driving in Virginia when her vehicle broke down. She called him and told him she was near an outlet mall in Leesburg, which Copeland said would normally be a half-hour trip using the ferry.

“At that time of night, I had to get in my car and go all the way through Point of Rocks, up and down, hill and dale, across the river to get to my daughter,” he said.

Copeland said that some of the closest services to Poolesville, including emergency services and big-box stores such as Wal Mart, are in Loudoun County. The ferry’s shutdown has hurt the community, he said.

“It changed our lives in intangible ways, and not for the better,” he said.

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