White’s Ferry carried travelers across the Potomac River from what is now Montgomery County, Md., to Loudoun County, Va., starting in the 18th century. It closed in December after a legal dispute between the ferry’s owner and the owners of Rockland Farm, on the Virginia side, who argued that the service trespassed on its land.
In February, Chuck Kuhn, chief executive of JK Moving Services, purchased the ferry in hopes of negotiating a permanent easement with the farm owners “so that the ferry never ceases operating again,” according to a statement at the time.
Kuhn had estimated that the ferry could reopen in as little as a week.
On Wednesday, Shawn Flaherty, a spokeswoman for Kuhn, said in a statement that “the Kuhn family has encountered obstacles to reopening the ferry, pushing back the opening day up to 10 months.”
The statement said “the ferry must gain use rights in Virginia” to reopen.
“Unfortunately they ran into the same challenges that the previous ferry owner had,” Flaherty said in an email. “They were unable to come to a reasonable price and reasonable terms for the Virginia landing.”
Flaherty added that Kuhn is “seeking support from the counties and states for eminent domain,” which can take “a minimum of five to a maximum of 10 months.”
Loudoun County spokesman Glen Barbour said the county is aware of Kuhn’s request, but “no actions or decisions” have been made.
“The County remains interested in resuming ferry operations because from the County’s perspective the ferry is considered an important part of our regional transportation network,” Barbour wrote in an email. “The County certainly hopes that Mr. Kuhn is able to resume ferry operations at some point in the near future.”
Libby Devlin, an owner of Rockland Farm and its resident manager, said the land has been in her family for more than 200 years. From 1952 until 2004, the ferry’s owner paid the farm $5 per year for use of its landing even as ridership grew substantially, she said. Round-trip tickets cost $8.
Since the ferry closed in December after Rockland won a $102,000 court judgment against its former owners, Devlin said, she has sought to negotiate a better position for the farm, asking Kuhn to pay Rockland a 50-cent fee for every vehicle that uses the landing.
Kuhn refused, she said, and instead pushed for a permanent easement that the farm wants to avoid.
“I can’t believe we haven’t had it resolved,” she said. “Most people I’ve spoken with feel they’d be happy to pay 50 cents to get the ferry open.”
Flaherty declined to comment on the 50-cent fee proposal.
“We stand ready and willing to reopen,” Kuhn said in a statement. “The ferry has ramifications for our local economy and the livelihoods of many people, from technology workers to retail employees to farmworkers.”
For some commuters, the cable-guided ferry and its three-minute, 30-second idyllic route across the river was essential to avoid rural roads plagued with traffic.
Before it closed, the ferry carried an estimated 800 vehicles daily.
Larry Matheson, a 63-year-old D.C. resident, said the ferry has “become indispensable to me over the last 40 years.” He said he often biked to Leesburg, crossed the ferry and returned to the city on the C&O Canal towpath, calling the trip “one of the great bicycle adventures in our area.”
“The White’s Ferry operation has been a good neighbor and an asset to the region, and now that spring weather has arrived I miss it all the more keenly,” he wrote in an email.