White’s Ferry has been carrying goods and passengers across the Potomac River for over 200 years, but on Monday the operators announced that they have stopped their operations after the Loudoun County Circuit Court ruled that the ferry business does not have right to use the river landing on the Virginia side of the river.
In a press release, White’s Ferry announced, “The Circuit Court of Loudoun County, Virginia has ruled, in the case of Rockland Farm, LLC, et al. v. White’s Ferry, Inc., that no public landing exists on the Virginia shoreline at White’s Ferry Road and the ferry is prohibited from landing at that location in Virginia. As of the date of this press release Loudoun County, Virginia has declined to establish a public landing at that location.”
White’s Ferry said a store operating on its own property would remain open.
The White’s Ferry announcement surprised many across the region. Loudoun County Supervisor Caleb Kershner said, “I am extremely disappointed in the shutdown of White’s Ferry as a result of the court decision in Rockland Farm, LLC, et al. v. White’s Ferry, Inc, which found that White’s Ferry is trespassing on Rockland Farm’s property.”
Kershner said the ferry was a vital regional transportation link that saw over 600 cars a day between Montgomery County, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia. He also called for a bridge to be built to service the area. “This historic landmark has been home to a ferry service since 1786 and should continue to serve Virginia and Maryland citizens,” he said in a press release.
Loudoun County Public Affairs Officer Glen Barbour said the problems of the ferry and a potential bridge have a complicated history. “The issue of a second bridge over the Potomac River is a complete separate issue that Loudoun’s leaders have been discussing for many years. In 2017, the Board of Supervisors. The County expressed support for investigating the possibilities,” Barbour said. “Construction of a bridge is a complex issue that would require cooperation between Maryland and Virginia as well as any impacted property owners.”
In a Monday press release, Loudoun County said the dispute was between the two property owners that did not involve the county.
While White’s Ferry owns property on the Maryland side of the river, Rockland Farm owns the landing on the Virginia side of the river. According to court documents, a 1952 agreement allowed the ferry to operate. However, Rockland Farms argued that in 2004, ferry operators violated the agreement by relocating a retaining wall on the property. When the ferry operators refused to restore the property, Rockland terminated the agreement, and in 2009, sued White’s Ferry.
White’s Ferry argued that there was a public right-of-way on the property because the landing is linked to a state highway, but in November the court found that there is not enough evidence to prove that the landing and the approach are public.
The Monday decision to close White’s Ferry surprised Rockland Farms, who said in a press release that they had not sought to immediately shut down the ferry but had been hoping to reach an agreement.
“Following the Court’s decision on November 23, 2020 we asked our attorneys to seek to reach agreement with White’s Ferry to allow it to continue operating while providing Rockland Farm fair compensation for use of our property. In the event White’s Ferry no longer desired to operate the ferry, we also expressed a willingness to discuss a purchase of the business. Regrettably, White’s Ferry has chosen not to negotiate,” the Rockland Farms press release states.
Rockland Farms received many angry comments on social media, and politicians expressed concern about the closure.
“White’s Ferry has carried people between Virginia and Maryland since 1782 and plays an essential role in facilitating travel across the Potomac. I hope those involved come to a resolution ASAP that allows the Ferry to resume operations,” Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10) tweeted.
Delegate Danica Roem (D-Manassas) tweeted, “It’s 26.4 miles from Leesburg to Poolesville via U.S. 15 in Virginia and Route 28 in Maryland (the other Route 28, not VA’s Route 28). That same trip is 12.4 miles via White’s Ferry.”
“This needs to [be] fixed immediately. White’s Ferry keeps so many vehicles off of 15, 495 and 270 each day. It’s an important part of our transportation infrastructure. Also: if you’ve taken it (back-ups aside), it’s usually a peaceful, tranquil experience floating across the Potomac,” Roem said.
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