- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

The last public ferry to run across the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland continued to operate yesterday as a dispute over licensing between the longtime owners and the Coast Guard was resolved.

The Coast Guard agreed to reinstate the 24-car ferry’s certificate of inspection after the family that has owned Whites Ferry Inc. for 60 years agreed to allow only licensed operators to take the ferry helm. The owners had faced stiff fines and a shutdown of the trips made every 10 minutes by a boat named after Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early.

Coast Guard officials pulled the certificate and ordered the ferry to shut down Wednesday after three inspections since the spring revealed an unlicensed person was operating the boat that carries about 350 passenger cars each day between Poolesville and Leesburg, Va.

But owner R. Edwin Brown deemed the Coast Guard action “illegal” and continued to run the boat.

After a meeting Wednesday in the ferry’s office — just yards from a narrow stretch of the river — the two sides hashed out an agreement.

“We understand now that the vessel is in complete compliance and it is absolutely, entirely safe,” Mr. Brown said yesterday as he stood next to two Coast Guard inspectors in blue jumpsuits.

Despite the deal, Mr. Brown may not escape penalties for running the ferry without a licensed skipper. The Coast Guard could levy fines of $32,500 for each of the three days that inspectors found an unlicensed person operating the boat.

Lt. Cmdr. Lee Boone of the Coast Guard’s Baltimore station said it would be determined later whether any fine would be imposed. The company has previously paid civil fines for similar infractions, according to the Coast Guard.

But Mr. Brown, a lawyer, said he didn’t plan to pay any penalty.

“There’s no fine; it’s no violation,” he said.

A ferry first plied the Potomac at Whites Ferry in the early 1800s. The modern version is now the only public one of its kind on the river and its tributaries.

The Jubal A. Early runs daily from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., and cars pay $4 for a one-way ride or $6 for a round trip.

For commuters traveling between Virginia and Maryland, the ferry can be an important timesaving link. It is the only way across the river between the American Legion Bridge 20 miles to the south and Point of Rocks 10 miles north.

George Nemr of Great Falls estimates that he saves several hours each day by avoiding D.C. area traffic as he commutes across the river to a construction site in Poolesville. He wondered why the Coast Guard decided to take action.

“I’ve been using the ferry for 10 years. I’ve never had any problems. Why now? They should leave them alone,” he said.

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