- Associated Press - Saturday, February 25, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - One of Alabama’s best-known boats is going green.

Officials say the Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a more than $1 million grant to convert the diesel-powered Gee’s Bend Ferry into a battery-powered electric vessel.

The Alabama Department of Transportation announced Friday that it will become the first zero-emission passenger/vehicle ferry of its type in the nation, and only the second in the world.

Today, the ferry runs 362 days a year between the town of Camden and the rural community of Gee’s Bend in Wilcox County.

Gee’s Bend has been home to hundreds of descendants of slaves, including a group of black women known worldwide for making quilts, and is across the Alabama River from the Wilcox County courthouse in Camden. The original ferry ran on cables.

But its residents had to endure a car trip of more than 40 miles to get to stores, schools and doctors after the white-controlled government shut down the ferry in 1962, to make it more difficult for black residents to travel to the county seat to register to vote in the civil rights era. The state finally reopened the ferry 44 years later, in 2006.

An interim ferry will run until the power conversion is done in 2018. Funding for the conversion is part of the National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program.

“It is exciting that the state of Alabama will lead the nation with the use of this clean technology,” Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for the Alabama Department of Transportation to showcase innovations, while maintaining this important passenger ferry service for the people of Wilcox County.”

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