- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2020

White’s Ferry ceased operations Monday over a longstanding land dispute, bringing an end to more than 200 years of crossings between Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River.

A circuit court judge in Loudoun County “ruled that 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,” the ferry company said in a press release.

The company said that Loudoun County “has declined to establish a public landing at that location.”

However, Loudoun County’s government issued a statement “to clarify misinformation regarding the county’s role” and the implications that the ferry “ceased operations due to the lack of an established public landing in Virginia.”

“It is important to note that this legal matter is between a private property owner and the ferry operator and that Loudoun County is not party to the lawsuit,” the county stated, adding that it is “concerned” about the potential impact on regional transportation, residents and workers.

The historic cable ferry has provided transportation across the Potomac from Loudoun County to western Montgomery County for decades, servicing about 600 vehicles a day.

Loudoun County Circuit Judge Stephen E. Sincavage’s decision came last month in a lawsuit filed by Rockland Farm against White’s Ferry Inc.

Rockland Farm defended itself in a Facebook post Monday afternoon stating that it has been trying to reach an agreement with the ferry owners to continue operating on the farm’s private property for more than 16 years.

The farm said that the two companies entered into a licensing agreement in 1952 that allowed White’s Ferry to pay $5 per year to use the landing so long as it “was never changed or enlarged under its current configuration.”

In 2004, the ferry operators “unlawfully” expanded the landing and built structures on the property in violation of the agreement, the farm said.

After years of trying to work out a deal, Rockland said it “had no choice” but to bring the issue to court in 2009. More time passed, as attempts to settle the suit out of court failed and the judge reportedly ruled in November that the ferry owners “had been and are trespassing and are no longer able to make use of Rockland without Rockland’s permission.”

Since last month’s ruling, Rockland said it suggested several arrangements including an offer to purchase the ferry, rent the land or enter into an interim licensing agreement until a deal could be reached, all of which “have gone unanswered.”

“All the while White’s Ferry continued, unjustly and now in violation of a court ruling, to make money off of the use of Rockland,” the farm stated. “Instead of engaging with Rockland Farm to negotiate a fair and equitable arrangement to keep the ferry running, the response by White’s Ferry was to close the ferry and walk away from the business.”

White’s Ferry began operating in 1786, according to visitmontgomery.com. In the early days, it served as a way for Virginia farmers to bring crops to sell in Washington and Maryland and as a crossing for soldiers in the Civil War.

The cable ferry most recently was the last of 100 ferries to operate on the river, and it allowed pedestrians to bring cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles along for the ride, which took about five minutes between shores.

Delegate Danica Roem, Virginia Democrat, tweeted Monday that the dispute needs to be “fixed immediately” because the ferry is an “important part of our transportation infrastructure” that keeps cars off nearby interstate highways.

“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,” Ms. Roem said. “Do the math on wasted fuel and time per trip and multiply it by 600 vehicle trips per day.”

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