THERE HAS been plenty of finger-pointing about the shutdown of the historic White’s Ferry, which provided a critical link between Maryland and Virginia. Some blame the owner of the land where the ferry docked in Loudoun County for being unreasonable — some say greedy — in demands for compensation over use of the land. Others fault operators of the private ferry for stonewalling any kind of fair payment. What’s not in dispute is who is paying the price: hundreds of daily commuters who depended upon the service, owners of businesses hurt by the closure and people who enjoyed the fun of the ride across the Potomac River. Good, then, that officials in Montgomery and Loudoun counties have finally recognized the public interest at stake and seem to be working together to find a solution.

The ferry, which traces its start to the late 1700s and is the last of more than a hundred ferries that operated on the Potomac River, shut down in December in the wake of a long-running legal battle between former owner White’s Ferry Inc. and Rockland Farm, which owns the landing site in Virginia. A Loudoun judge found in favor of Rockland Farm, ruling that White’s Ferry had trespassed on the land, and awarded the owners more than $100,000 in damages. The ferry system has since been purchased by JK Moving Services CEO Chuck Kuhn and his wife, Stacy, who have placed more than 10,000 acres in Loudoun, Fauquier and Frederick counties into conservation easements. “White’s Ferry represents a piece of our region’s past,” Mr. Kuhn said in a statement announcing the purchase in February and his plans to quickly start — and enhance — operations.

But talks to reach agreement on use of the landing site stalled and broke down. Depending on whom you talk to, the Rockland owners have made increasingly outrageous demands for use of a tiny piece of land that can’t be developed for any other purpose; or Mr. Kuhn should just agree to a reported proposal of a 50-cent payment for every car that uses the ferry. What is not in dispute is that a public asset — a useful transportation link — is being untenably held hostage in a dispute between two private parties. “I am hardly staying afloat,” Riley Jamison, owner of Liberty gas station in Poolesville, told us, and he said he is not alone. Some residents, who also have to deal with the cost and inconvenience of far longer drives, say there should be a public subsidy to get the ferry up and running.

The two counties rightly have agreed to a joint study that examines all alternatives — including use of eminent domain or other modes of property acquisition. They should shape a solution that gets the ferry running and safeguards it from future interruption.

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