Immediately after 10 years-Very long Authorized Struggle, White’s Ferry Closes

White’s Ferry, which has related Loudoun with Montgomery County since 6 many years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, introduced it was ceasing functions on Monday subsequent a courtroom ruling that it could not legally use its landing in Virginia.

On Nov. 23, Circuit Court docket Choose Stephen E. Sincavage located that there was no history documenting the development of a public landing on the Virginia shore and awarded the house owners of the Rockland Farm home, exactly where the ferry lands in Loudoun, $102,175 in damages for trespassing, residence injury and breach of contract.

The closure will come extra than 11 years soon after the Rockland Farm entrepreneurs submitted a lawsuit alleging the operators of the ferry trespassed, harmed Rockland home and breached a pre-current arrangement when they made a concrete retaining wall in spring 2004. Considering that then, extended negotiations and tries at mediation have not been successful.

Elizabeth Devlin, a single of Rockland’s owners and the daughter of previous county supervisor Betsey Brown, mentioned the ferry operators considerably expanded the measurement of the landing, without notifying Rockland’s homeowners and violating an agreement negotiated with her grandparents that allowed the ferry to use the land for $5 a yr.

“They retained sending us the $5 a yr examine, and we stored returning it, telling them the licensing settlement is no longer in impact and we require to occur to the table,” Devlin said.

And she said it was a “huge shock” when she read Monday that the ferry would close.

“It was totally a shock to us, a massive shock that they would make your mind up to wander absent from functioning the ferry,” Devlin explained. “From their accounting that they’ve sent to us for evidence throughout the demo, they are netting around a half a million pounds a year, plus a hefty management rate for working the ferry. So why they would decide to just walk absent from that valuable organization is just sort of a shock to us, and we certainly experienced nothing to do with it.”

She mentioned recurring attempts at negotiating with the ferry’s owners have been fulfilled largely with silence. That integrated an give to acquire the ferry enterprise for five times its earnings in addition the appraised price of the landing on the Maryland aspect, which Devlin stated was turned down devoid of a counteroffer.

“Our attorneys were being hoping to achieve out to their attorneys … to get an interim arrangement to hold the ferry working whilst we negotiated some other arrangements with the ferry, and section of that was we presented once more to obtain the ferry, or lase our land, or we were being open to other preparations,” Devlin claimed. “And we purposefully delayed distributing the order to the courtroom, hoping to reach an settlement with them to continue to keep the ferry managing. That’s in the most effective curiosity of everyone, to retain the ferry open up and operating. We would by no means get a response.”

“We under no circumstances wished to have the ferry shut down,” Devlin stated. “It’s very good for everybody. It’s great for Rockland, it is excellent for the community, it’s fantastic for all the commuters in Maryland. Furthermore, the Rt. 15 visitors in front of our household is like crazy, and it is a advantage to have the ferry and not have all that traffic on Rt. 15.”

A signal posted alongside Rt. 15 north of Leesburg alerts motorists that White’s Ferry is shut.

Patrick Szabo/Loudoun Now

White’s Ferry owner/operator Herb Brown mentioned on Monday that his team shut the ferry for very good last Saturday, through a several-day time period when they were being previously closed due to the fact of high drinking water and debris floating downstream. He reported he experimented with to solve the lawful dispute in advance of it acquired this considerably, by beforehand presenting the Rockland Farm house owners a payment of $100,000. He stated the Rockland Farm owners’ attorneys said that was an “insulting offer.”

“We’re devastated,” he mentioned. “As of appropriate now, we’re shut completely. … We got to sit down and examine it and consider about it.”

White’s Ferry, situated just north of Leesburg, pulls 24 cars and trucks at a time across the Potomac River together a 300-property cable, with one particular landing on the Montgomery County, MD side and one more on the Loudoun County facet. It has been in procedure because January 1782, initially as Conrad’s Ferry.

Following the Civil War, Accomplice Colonel Elijah V. White procured the ferry and renamed the service just after his household. He thereafter petitioned the Loudoun Circuit Court to condemn and purchase the general public title to the street major to the landing and the landing by itself. The Commissioners of the Townships of Loudoun issued a resolution undertaking just that in March 1871. According to a assertion by Rockland Farm, the county condemned a landing at Rockland Farm of 1 perch by 16 perches—about 5.5 yards by 88 yards.

In 1946, the Brown family members obtained the ferry. It has been in their relatives at any time because and for many years has been giving hundreds of hundreds of commuters a faster travel route to and from the metropolis. According to situation paperwork, White’s Ferry and the house owners of the Rockland Farm house entered into a licensing arrangement in 1952.

The dispute that led to the 2009 lawsuit filed by the Rockland Farm proprietors arose in May possibly 2004, when ferry operators demolished a wooden retaining wall that was built in 1982 and was partially wrecked by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

A Long Authorized Battle

In it the area of the aged retaining wall, the operators set up a new concrete wall—an motion the proprietors of Rockland Farm declare in their July 2009 complaint was in violation of the licensing arrangement.

In addition to claiming White’s Ferry operators trespassed, damaged assets and breached their agreement, the Rockland Farm lawsuit, which remained mostly inactive right up until August 2013, also alleged that the ferry operators ended up unjustly enriched by pulling in $675,000 just about every yr in web profits, or a lot more than $7 million since 2004, according to a Dec. 28 assertion from Rockland Farm. The house owners of Rockland Farm sought $500,000 in damages via every single of these four counts.

In accordance to their criticism, White’s Ferry was “not to erect any supplemental poles or wires, not to make any adjustments to the current poles or wires other than regular replacement or mend, and not to do any supplemental excavating nor make any adjustments in the existing methods, roadways, buildings or facilities on the [Rockland Farm property] with out the prepared consent of” the Rockland Farm assets owners.

The Rockland proprietors in their criticism asserted the White’s Ferry operators “without any permission or authority willfully, wantonly and in mindful disregard of Plaintiffs’ legal rights, invaded the property” to create the new retaining wall, “substantially” re-quality the river bank and dump “uncontrolled fill material” on other parts of the Rockland assets.

In accordance to Circuit Court Decide Stephen E. Sincavage’s Nov. 23 viewpoint, Rockland Farm terminated the 1952 licensing agreement when White’s Ferry operators “refused to restore the property” in 2004.

Among the arguments of the ferry operators was that the landing and access street experienced been topic to community use simply because of an 1871 street condemnation circumstance or as a result of the 1932 Byrd Act, which transformed public streets, bridges and landings from local to condition handle. On the other hand, Sincavage concluded that there was not powerful evidence to conclude the landing was subject matter to public use status.

Though the White’s Ferry operators admitted to undertaking the design function with no permits in their October 2016 answer to Rockland’s grievance, they also asserted that the 1871 resolution extinguished “any legal rights in and to the landing area of Plaintiffs’ predecessors-in-interest.”

“As a result of the resolution, the landing region turned a public landing and proceeds to be up and to the present time,” the ferry operators’ July 2010 plea in bar reads. “Plaintiffs do not have precise or constructive possession of the land or any possessory fascination sufficient to sustain an motion in trespass against Defendants.”

But in his feeling, Sincavage wrote it was speculative to surmise that the landing was made a general public suitable of way and dominated in favor of Rockland’s claim of trespassing.

In their July 2010 plea in bar, the ferry owners objected to the declare that they damaged Rockland property because there was “no sensible expectation of compensation” simply because the licensing agreement experienced been terminated.

However, Sincavage ruled in favor of the Rockland Farm proprietors in regard to ferry operators detrimental the house.

The ferry owners also asserted that the Rockland Farm owners have been barred from boasting a breach of agreement since Virginia legislation imposes a five-calendar year statute of limitations on contracts that are “not normally specified” in that portion of law.

Sincavage pointed out that the ferry owners’ development get the job done happened ahead of the termination of the 1952 licensing settlement and dominated in favor of Rockland.

The only declare Sincavage did not obtain in favor of the Rockland Farm house owners was the allegation of unjust enrichment, to which he wrote that the Rockland property owners experienced not “proven the value of the advantage with realistic certainty.”

Below the November court ruling, a new agreement with the landowners or the establishment of a public landing would be necessary to retain the ferry operation likely.

Social Media Backlash

Because the surprise announcement dropped, reaction on social media has been intense, with folks on Facebook spreading rumors and attacking Rockland—and other enterprises unfortunate enough to share the name. Each Rockland Farm Winery in Poolesville, MD and Rockland Farm Weddings, a location in Bumpass, VA posted on their Facebook web pages clarifying that they are not involved.

“****See*** TO ALL THE ACTIVISTS OUT THERE THAT Jump TO CONCLUSIONS Right before Doing THEIR Investigation**** WE ARE NOT!!!! I REPEAT ARE NOT!!! THE ROCKLAND FARM THAT WAS Associated WITH SHUTTING DOWN A FERRY IN LEESBURG,” posted Rockland Farm Weddings. The venue threatened lawful motion for any even further negative evaluations, harassment or cell phone phone calls.

It has also elicited responses from elected officers on both equally sides of the river.

The county govt on Monday afternoon releaseda formal statementstressing that the county was not a celebration to the dispute in between the two private events. In accordance to the assertion, the parties had been negotiating an settlement to continue on the use of the residence.

“While Loudoun County is not celebration to the lawful dispute, the county stays worried about the end result from a regional transportation point of view. We realize that any affect to ferry service may well impression our inhabitants and folks who get the job done in Loudoun County,” the statement reads.

Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) issued a statement pointing out that the scenario “illustrates the important will need to go after a upcoming bridge crossing concerning Virginia and Maryland. Regional connections concerning Maryland and Virginia are very susceptible to problems such as the closure of White’s Ferry and the American Legion Bridge.”

The supervisor mentioned extra should really be performed to build a new Potomac River crossing in jap Loudoun, which was endorsed in thought by the county board in 2018.

“I phone on our regional transportation leaders to see the rewards of what can be accomplished by addressing extended overdue regional transportation demands by creating an added bridge crossing amongst Virginia and Maryland. Less congestion will supply career prospects, good quality of lifestyle for our residents, and economic development to our location,” Kershner reported.

And Loudoun County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Big) mentioned she will increase the problem in the county boardroom in early 2021 and explained the ferry’s closure will have “far reaching detrimental effects on the hundreds of Loudoun people who use this method of transportation consistently.”

“As the Chair of both the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Northern Virginia Transportation
Authority, I am keenly mindful of the have to have to have a selection of practical transportation alternate options
in purchase to preserve a successful regional interconnected technique,” Randall mentioned. “In the past, I have publicly mentioned my help for an additional Potomac River Crossing and I have personally absent over to discuss this problem with Elected Officers in Maryland. They have frequently and clearly stated they are not interested in even partaking in the discussion.”

“It would truly be a actual disgrace if we were being to lose the ferry,” reported Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk. “It has an important historic aspect to it and people do use it on a regular basis, as it cuts off their commuting time. I understand this is a dispute between two non-public functions and I hope they’ll take into thought the relevance of the ferry and the affection so many folks in the neighborhood have for it.”

The Town of Poolesville, MD also published a assertion Monday morning contacting the ferry “an integral element of the Western Montgomery County location, the relationship to Northern Virginia, a historic treasure, and a vastly essential piece of transportation infrastructure.” According to that assertion, Poolesville commissioners are performing with Montgomery County and Maryland state officers to hold the ferry open up. Their function in executing so is unclear.

“The closing of this crucial transportation link, will have a large impression on many commuters, bordering communities, and alternate routes of vacation,” mentioned Fee President Kerri Prepare dinner. “Also, the western part of the county is recognized by a rich history and exclusive character and White’s Ferry is an necessary factor of that Montgomery County background.”