Recap of the White’s Ferry Situation From When Operations Ceased in December 2020

by MCS Staff

It has been less than a year since White’s Ferry announced it would be ceasing operations immediately on December 28th, 2020. Since then, the ferry has been purchased and the dispute that caused it to close remains unresolved.

Below, we’ve created a timeline with information about White’s Ferry and how the scenario has unfolded thus far:

  • 1786, historic White’s Ferry opens in Leesburg, Virginia.

It remained a significant transportation route between Maryland and Virginia for over 200 years, carrying nearly 800 daily users when it was operational

Historic White’s Ferry was the last of 100 ferries that used to operate on the Potomac River.

  • December 28, 2020: White’s Ferry announces it is ceasing operations due to a legal dispute with Rockland Farm, LLC

Full statement by White’s Ferry:

White’s Ferry regrets to inform the public that it will cease its Potomac River ferry operation between White’s Ferry Road in Montgomery County, Maryland and White’s Ferry Road in Loudoun County, Virginia effective immediately. 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.

  • December 28, 2020: Historic Rockland Farm (no association to Rocklands Farm Winery in Poolesville) releases a statement via their social media explaining their side of the story.

“In 1871, Loudoun County condemned a landing at Rockland Farm of 1 perch by 16 perches for a Ferry landing called Conrad’s Ferry. At that time there were many ferries that crossed the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland such as Edward’s Ferry and Sphinx Ferry. Unfortunately, there are no records that show where the condemnation for Conrad’s ferry occurred. In 1947, Elijah White wanted to reopen Conrad’s Ferry under the name White’s Ferry after a terrible flood which had closed Conrad’s ferry for a long time. They sent a letter to Rockland Farm acknowledging that they had no right to use Rockland’s property for the landing and asked the owners of Rockland Farm, for an agreement. In 1952, Elizabeth Rust Brown and Stanley Noel Brown, owners of Rockland Farm entered into a licensing agreement with White’s Ferry for $5.00 per year for the use of a landing at Rockland Farm so long as the ferry landing was never changed or enlarged under its current configuration. Since that time, White’s Ferry evolved from being a small operation of a few cars per day to a major commuter route.

Sixteen years ago, on July 4th weekend, White’s Ferry (without prior notification or permission from Rockland and without obtaining any government permits) unlawfully enlarged the ferry landing and built structures on Rockland. So doing violated a license agreement between White’s Ferry and Rockland that had been in place for more than half a century. Since then Rockland has been attempting to work out some fair arrangement with the owners of White’s Ferry. In response, all White’s Ferry has done is to delay, delay, delay, all the while making millions of dollars off the use of Rockland. Finally, after being stonewalled time and again by White’s Ferry, Rockland had no choice but to file suit on December 2, 2009. After many attempts to settle the case out of court which delayed the trial by years, the suit was decided in Rockland’s favor on November 23rd, 2020. The court definitively ruled that the owners of White’s Ferry had been and are trespassing and are no longer able to make use of Rockland without Rockland’s permission.

Since that decision over four weeks ago, Rockland Farm has made numerous attempts to reach White’s Ferry in order to negotiate a fair and equitable solution that will keep the ferry running. Rockland has offered to purchase White’s ferry, to be paid rent for its land, and to consider other arrangements that will keep the ferry running. On multiple occasions, White’s Ferry told Rockland Farm that it would get back to Rockland on certain dates, but missed their own deadlines. Multiple attempts to reach White’s Ferry 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.

Rockland Farm knows that it is in everyone’s best interest to keep the ferry running and sent White’s Ferry an interim licensing agreement so that the ferry operation could continue without interruption until a deal between the two parties could be negotiated. Rockland Farm received no response from White’s Ferry. Having not gotten a response from White’s Ferry, Rockland Farm wrote to them last Wednesday letting them know that if Rockland did not hear back from them by noon on Monday, it would send a final notice of entry of Order to the court. 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.”

About a year and a half before operations ceased at White’s Ferry, Devin Ramazon and his father saw the White’s Ferry Store & Grill building up for lease. Neither had been involved in the restaurant business before, but they knew how to make a good burger and decided to take a chance.

The store has remained open throughout this time.

  • January 4, 2021: Joint Statement by Local Leaders on Historic White’s Ferry

“We fully understand the importance of White’s Ferry to residents and businesses of Western Montgomery and the region and are committed to exercising every option we have available to get this critical transportation link reopened and running as quickly as possible.

As soon as we became aware of the closure, we have been working collaboratively at the county, state, and municipal levels to engage with the private parties and officials in Loudoun County and Virginia.

We are working closely with the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, the Montgomery County Director of Transportation, and the County Attorney and in direct communication with their counterparts across the Potomac River.

This is a complicated legal dispute between two private entities (Rockland Farm in Virginia and the Brown Family in Maryland) over land beyond the state and county’s borders.

We have dedicated every resource at our disposal to this issue and will continue to work with our public and private counterparts throughout the region to resolve the issue.

We will keep our residents informed throughout the process with any and all information we are able to share.”

Councilmember Andrew Friedson
Senator Brian Feldman
Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo
Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais
Delegate Lily Qi
Town of Poolesville Commissioners

A deal was made official for the purchase of White’s Ferry, the adjacent store, and the portion of Maryland shoreline used for operations, to Chuck and Stacy Kuhn, owners of JK Moving Services.

The Kuhns are working with the owners of Rockland Farm to restore service to and from Virginia.  They hope to either buy the Virginia landing site or come to an agreement with Rockland Farm to ensure that future ferry service is not disrupted.

  • April 7, 2021: The WBJ reports that the Kuhns are now looking to the state of Virginia to acquire the docking site through eminent domain, which could delay the opening until 2022.

According to the Washington Business Journal, negotiations between the Kuhns and Rockland Farm LLC over use the ferry’s Virginia docking site have come to a standstill.

  • April 8, 2021: Rockland Farm releases a statement in which they gave their side of the negotiations:

“On February 12, 2021, Rockland’s owners learned that Chuck Kuhn had entered into a
contract to purchase the ferry operation and associated land. Rockland owners were
surprised to hear of this transaction because they were literally in the process of arranging
a date to meet with White’s Ferry and County officials to discuss and finalize the terms of
Rockland’s acquisition of the Maryland landing and ferry operation. When Mr. Kuhn
announced his intention to purchase the ferry at an undisclosed price, negotiations
between White’s Ferry and Rockland immediately ended.

Rockland was hopeful that it could come to an agreement on fair compensation for the use
of its landing with Mr. Kuhn to get the ferry up and running as quickly as possible and
immediately communicated its hope for a per vehicle transit fee as an easy way to come to
terms. Though Mr. Kuhn communicated with Rockland his intentions to raise the ferry’s
fees by at least $1.00, Mr. Kuhn refused to entertain any such offer of number of cents per
vehicle. Instead, he reiterated White’s Ferry’s offer to buy a permanent easement. Because
the landing is part of Rockland’s history and its owners want to preserve Rockland as a
working farm with ongoing streams of income from the use of its land, the owners were not
interested in a permanent sale or easement.”

  • April 21, 2021: Montgomery County Applauds Loudoun County’s Efforts to Restore Potomac River Ferry Service

Marc Elrich released a statement earlier today announcing his full support of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors efforts to restore the ferry service between the two counties.

“Restoring the operation of a Potomac River Ferry between Montgomery County and Loudoun County as soon as possible is critically important to reducing travel times to and from Virginia for many of our residents,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “This connection across the Potomac will also provide more Virginians access Montgomery County businesses and our growing agritourism sector. Plus, the ferry ride is just plain fun. I am grateful for the work and partnership between the Loudoun County and Montgomery County transportation departments, and I am also deeply appreciative of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors for their support of these efforts. Our residents on both sides of the Potomac River need this ferry service to resume quickly.”

  • June 23, 2021: The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) starts working with the Loudoun County Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure (DTCI) on a study of White’s Ferry’s operations.

Though it began on June 23rd, the study wasn’t officially announced until August 17th.

  • August 17th, 2021: Montgomery County, in Partnership with Loudoun County and Capital Infrastructure, Announces White’s Ferry Study Underway and On Time; Meeting to be Held in Poolesville on Wednesday, Aug. 18

The meeting in Poolesville will provide an opportunity for the public to meet the new owner of the ferry and hear updates on the efforts in partnership thus far as Maryland and Virginia officials work together to get the ferry reopened for the long term.

“Since operations of White’s Ferry ended last December, we have been working with our partners in Loudoun County to resume service as soon as possible,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “This study is a critical step in this process and will help answer the crucial question of ‘when will the ferry return?’ Restoring the operation of White’s Ferry, to cross the Potomac River between Montgomery County and Loudoun County, is important to reducing travel times for many of our residents. We are committed to working with Loudoun County officials and local stakeholders to ensure a dependable long-term solution is put in place immediately.”

  • August 18, 2021: Owner of White’s Ferry Proclaims “The Ferry Will Run Again” at Poolesville Town Hall

“The ferry will run again” proclaimed Kuhn at the forum. Though he spoke of ways he would like to enhance the ferry and the White’s Ferry experience as a whole, not much was shared in terms of progress towards a solution.

“One way or another, that ferry will be open and moving before summer of ‘22.” Kuhn stated. “The moment we can move that ferry, we’ll move that ferry.” Kuhn shared that he hopes the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are able to find another solution for reopening the ferry– mentioning eminent domain as a possibility.

Ferry service across the Potomac River is recognized as an important part of the region’s transportation network. White’s Ferry ceased operations on December 28, 2020, following a Circuit Court opinion in a private lawsuit over the use of private land for the ferry landing in Virginia. Prior to closing, White’s Ferry transported approximately 600 to 800 vehicles per day across the river and connected bicyclists and pedestrians between Montgomery County, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia.

Montgomery County worked jointly with Loudoun County to conduct a study of the White’s Ferry’s operations as well as an evaluation of land ownership and acquisition scenarios for the Virginia landing. The study evaluated the long-term feasibility and reliability of the Potomac River ferry service between Montgomery and Loudoun Counties, and helped identify alternatives for ferry operations with a common goal of re-establishing daily ferry service that benefits the community.

The joint study was led by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the Loudoun County Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure. The study’s scope includes:

Roadway access and ferry use along with any other pertinent transportation issues

Identifying legal and regulatory requirements associated with ferry operations.

Landing site improvements and landing location options.

Operating alternatives that may include a public/private partnership.

 

  • November 16, 2021: Rockland Farm Co-Owner Libby Devlin Testifies to Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors

Per WUSA9:

On Tuesday, Devlin testified to Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors that her family has made six different offers to settle with Kuhn.

“Rockland Farm deserves to receive fair payment for the uses of its landing, just as the new ferry owner should be compensated for the use of the Maryland landing. If the shoe were on the other foot,” Devlin testified.

“Unfortunately, the prospect of the county condemning Rockland’s landing for the new owner’s use creates a disincentive for him to negotiate with us,” she added.

 

  • November 19, 2021: Statement by Chuck Kuhn, Owner of White’s Ferry

“I want to express my sincere appreciation to the governments on both sides of the river for their hard work and commitment to reopening White’s Ferry. This is important for my wife Stacy and me.  We live and work here and know the importance of this historic crossing. After its closure in December 2020, there was no plan to reopen the ferry.  The prior owner, Herb Brown, had attempted repeatedly and unsuccessfully to work with the Rockland Farm organization to find a way to land the ferry and serve his customers in a way that made business sense. His reasonable offers weren’t accepted, and he was forced to close the business.

We purchased the ferry in hopes for a different outcome. We were under no allusions that the ferry would be a profitable venture, as recent studies captured the difficulty and costs for running the ferry. Our goal was to offer an affordable, safe product with pricing that is fair and predictable for riders while protecting a unique, historic, and valued transportation route.  Unfortunately, we have encountered the same issues as the previous owner when trying to negotiate with the Rockland Farm organization, part of a portfolio of assets owned by hedge fund CEO Peter Brown, along with his minority shareholders, Libby Devlin and Harriett Dickerson.

We have made numerous offers to lease and/or purchase the landing site with no success. At their request and our cost, we had the entire Rockland Farm appraised three times to explore the possibility of purchasing the whole farm as an option for reopening the landing site. We subsequently made a $13.5 million cash offer to purchase the entire farm–which was higher than two of the proposals. There was no counteroffer and was ultimately rejected. Rockland Farm’s repeated demands for $2 million cash or 50 cents a car each way along with unacceptable deal terms made negotiations impossible. We further offered to donate the ferry and the land to the respective governments in an attempt to reopen the ferry for our region.

Instead, we have been maligned through Rockland Farm’s aggressive and misleading online and signage campaigns and insulted in public by a Rockland Farm owner…as recently as Tuesday night in front of the Loudoun County Government Center. Given the difficulty and lack of professionalism negotiating with the Rockland Farm ownership, no further negotiations with them appear possible.”

  • November 20, 2021: Written Statement Issued by Rockland Farm Co-Owner, Libby Devlin, Responding to Chuck Kuhn’s Statement

Per WUSA9:

In a written statement issued Saturday in response to Kuhn’s allegations, Devlin said she’s offering binding arbitration:   “Rockland has been willing to come to the table with White’s Ferry’s previous owner and new owner from day one. We continue to believe a volume-based fee of fifty-cents per vehicle is a very reasonable price for the use of our landing. Even at significant risk to us, we have offered to enter into binding arbitration whereby a neutral third party would choose the fairest solution. We continue to hope that White’s Ferry will join us to arrive at a private arrangement to re-open this historic gem that has crossed the Potomac for as long any of us can remember.”

  • November 20, 2021: Updated Statement from Chuck Kuhn Addressing Questions About Various Offers in Regards to the Ferry

We’ve received questions about the various offers in regards to the Ferry. The following has been excerpted from the updated, statement with clarifications from Chuck Kuhn, owner of White’s Ferry:

“We have made numerous very fair offers to lease and/or purchase the landing site in good faith with no success. Rockland Farm’s repeated demands for $2 million cash for the small parcel of land that constitutes the landing site or 50 cents a car each way along with unacceptable deal terms made negotiations impossible. In addition to purchasing the landing site, at their request and our cost, we had the entire Rockland Farm appraised three times to explore the possibility of purchasing the whole farm as an option for reopening the landing site. We subsequently made a $13.5 million cash offer to purchase the entire farm—which was actually higher than two of the appraisals. Rocklands made no counteroffer and ultimately rejected our offer. We further proposed to donate the ferry and the land we own to the respective governments in an attempt to reopen the ferry for our region.”

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