J.E. McAmis


Jun 3, 2010

Komatsu productive equipment and dealer support

When it comes to doing tough, hard-rock dredging jobs, few if any companies have the resources, experience and expertise of J.E. McAmis. Although McAmis does all types of marine construction, water-related heavy/civil work and environmental restoration, difficult dredging jobs are a specialty of the Chico, Calif.-based firm.

“Our calling card is that we’re willing and able to do the dredging jobs that most other companies either can’t do or won’t do,” said John C. McAmis, Project Quality Control Manager and son of company founder and President John E. McAmis. “The harder the rock and the tougher the digging, the better it suits us.”

Although based in California, J.E. McAmis maintains marine yards in Astoria, Ore., and Stuart, Fla. The company has done jobs from Port Canaveral, Fla., to Marina Del Rey, Calif., to Anchorage, Alaska, and many points in between. Currently, McAmis is working on the final phase of the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project, a 20-year, 103-mile U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to deepen the Columbia River ship channel between Portland, Ore., and the Pacific Ocean. This is the second time J.E. McAmis has worked on this channel improvement project, having dredged 1 million yards in 2007.

The purpose of the project is to improve access to ports along the river. By deepening the existing channel, the river will be navigable by new, larger, more efficient bulk-cargo ships. It’s significant because the river carries more wheat and barley than any other export gateway in the United States, and about $19 billion of total product annually.

This final phase of the project is a $52 million contract to remove 2.9 million yards of material over about a two-mile long and 800-foot wide stretch of river near Longview, Wash. J.E. McAmis won the contract in July 2009, and started initial dredging in October of last year. The job is scheduled for completion by the end of 2010.

What makes the job ideal for McAmis is that a section of the river contains hard rock. That section required blasting to loosen the rock on the riverbed. Due to environmental concerns, the blasting had to be (and was) completed before the end of January 2010. McAmis mobilized its Aquadigger, a barge-based unit featuring a powerful Komatsu PC3000 hydraulic excavator, which began dredging the blasted hard-rock area of the river.

Unique pieces of equipment

McAmis’ Aquadigger is a unique piece of equipment. Named the Megan-Renée (after J.E. McAmis’ youngest daughter Megan and wife Renée), the six-year-old unit features a trackless Komatsu PC3000 mounted on a barge making it a very large, floating backhoe dredge.

Specially designed and built for the purpose of tough, water-based digging, McAmis’ Aquadigger uses a 10-cubic-yard bucket that can dig a level cut 65 feet deep. Other special features include a highly sophisticated, automated spud control system; state-of-the-art dredging software; and an environmentally friendly fueling/greasing system that feeds fuel and grease from the barge through the rotex coupler of the excavator to avoid the possibility of a spill.

“The Megan-Renée is a one-of-a-kind unit,” said J.E. McAmis Dredge Captain Del Thompson. “The PC3000 is a 1,500-horsepower excavator, which combined with the barge weighs 1,600 tons. The Megan-Renée has more breakout force than a clamshell dredge, making it more suitable for hard-digging projects. It’s the only Aquadigger on the West Coast. This is a very specialized piece of equipment that was built specifically for J.E. McAmis. Beyond that, we learn something new on every job so we’re constantly adapting it to make operations better.”

In addition to the Megan-Renée, J.E. McAmis has a second barge-based excavator unit for this project, the Macy-Renée (named after John C. McAmis’ youngest daughter). This barge features a Komatsu PC1250 hydraulic excavator.

Obstacles overcome

On the Columbia River channel-deepening project, the Megan-Renée dredges the river bottom and deposits the material into one of two dump scows (barges) owned by McAmis to work in conjunction with the Aquadigger. Tug boats then take a full dump scow to the Macy-Renée for offloading at a designated site.

The Macy-Renée is positioned in water deep enough to accommodate the draft of the fully-loaded dump scows coming from the Megan-Renée, but also has to be connected to land. The PC1250 offloads the dump scows and swings the material into Komatsu HM300 articulated trucks (McAmis owns four HM300s and has a fifth on rental standby). The trucks have access to the Macy-Renée via a two-bridge system which allows the trucks to always be driving forward despite space constraints. After crossing a bridge and pulling into the loading area on the Macy-Renée, the trucks are filled, then drive off fully loaded over the second bridge. The HM300s haul the material to an upland storage site.

“Each new project presents obstacles that we must solve and then execute those solutions efficiently,” said John C. McAmis. “One prominent aspect of this job was the blasting. We sub-contracted with a company that specializes in deep-water drilling and blasting, and J.E. McAmis used the Macy-Renée barge as a support platform. We also had to figure out the most effective way to get the dredged material off the river. McAmis transported the shot material by bottom-dump barges to the Ross Island Lagoon on the Willamette River.

“For the second phase, the Macy-Renée, the trucks and the double-bridge system came into the picture. Lastly, we had to procure a storage area for a million yards of dredged material. Fortunately, we were able to locate and secure a nearby site.”

Productive equipment and dealer support

A key factor in making the Columbia River Channel Deepening Project a successful one for J.E. McAmis was getting the right equipment for the job. The company turned to Komatsu machines from Modern Machinery in Portland.

“We already had the PC3000 on the Megan-Renée so we were familiar with Komatsu excavators, which we consider top-of-the-line,” said John C. McAmis. “When we needed another barge-based excavator for the Macy-Renée, we contacted Modern about a Komatsu unit. They did a great job helping us size the excavator and trucks we would need to complete the project in the most efficient manner.”

McAmis, which had previously owned a Komatsu PC1800, initially considered its newer counterpart, the PC2000, as the excavator it would buy for the Macy-Renée.

“There’s no doubt that the PC2000 would have done a great job, but Modern, and especially Lamont Cantrell (Modern VP-Sales and Marketing) convinced us that the PC1250 with a seven-yard bucket paired with the HM300s would give us the production we’d need and would cost substantially less, and that’s been the case,” said John C. McAmis. “We’ve been very pleased with the performance of the PC1250 and the articulated trucks. They’re matched very well to the production from the Megan-Renée.”

McAmis had the PC1250 equipped with a cab riser so the operator could better see into the dump scows for unloading. They also put a longer stick on the machine for better reach and included a quick-connect fueling system to eliminate spills.

“We certainly appreciated the way Modern worked with us on the PC1250 and the fleet of trucks,” said McAmis. “We take care of the PC3000 ourselves, but rely on Modern for parts and they’ve done a good job of making sure we get what we need. For the PC1250 and the trucks, we have a service contract with Modern to perform all the services and maintenance intervals. This is a high-profile job and we can’t afford downtime. Modern understands our needs and takes good care of us.”

“J.E. McAmis is truly a unique contracting firm,” said Modern President Brian Sheridan. “We appreciate the opportunity they’ve given us to show how we can help them on this important project.”

“Family” business

Although today J.E. McAmis does very large, complex jobs, the company started small.

From those early days up to the present, J.E. McAmis was and remains very much a family business. Many vital employees are related, and those that aren’t have long connections to the company. In addition to J.E. and John C. McAmis, key personnel include: Site Superintendent Richard Downer, Marine Superintendent Jim Campbell, Project Manager Scott Vandegrift; Dredge Captain Del Thompson, and Safety Officer Craig Chartrand.

“Scott is my cousin and he and I started with my dad when we were both 16 years old,” John C. McAmis recalled. “Craig Chartrand is my uncle, and Richard Downer and my dad went to high school together and served in the Army together — both Craig and Jim have been here 30 years. Del’s a young guy but he’s probably been here 15 years or more.

“In addition to the management group, we have good personnel in this area who make up our crew and they work for us frequently when we have long-term jobs on the East or West Coast,” he added. “All our employees are definitely a big factor in our success. They understand our operation and expectations. They work hard and work smart. We’re very grateful to have these guys.”

Still growing

Although J.E. McAmis’ top competitors are very large companies, John C. McAmis says he and his father are satisfied with the current size of the business. “My dad started from scratch. I think he’s very pleased with what the company has become, but I don’t think he has any desire to employ hundreds of people and have multiple crews. We’re much more in control of our own destiny when we’re able to personally oversee each and every job.”

Despite that, McAmis says the company is still growing. ”We’re always looking for new and better ways to do our jobs, and for things that set us apart from our competitors. That attitude is what got my dad into the Aquadigger in the first place. We try to keep up on technological innovations that will make us more effective.

“One of the keys to the continued success of J.E. McAmis has been the relationships we have built with our customers,” observed Project Manager Scott Vandegrift. “Throughout the past four decades, J.E. McAmis has worked for many U.S. Army and Navy Districts as well as dozens of ports and other public and private clients throughout the country and we rank the Portland District as one of the very best. From top to bottom, the Portland District exemplifies all of the good things that our country is capable of. Their responsiveness to critical issues coupled with their willingness to tackle them, and their precision in doing so not only keeps morale high but also keeps budgets and schedules in line.

“Having the Portland District on our side, not only as the lead agency but as our partner, has played a huge role in the success of the Columbia River project,” Vandegrift continued. “This project is filled with the challenges and risks associated with large-scale blasting operations in an active shipping channel, including rock dredging, tight deadlines, tight budgets, multiple sponsors, complicated environmental issues and the day-to-day priority of keeping the construction team and the public safe.”

According to McAmis, most of the company’s projects are public, many of which are for the Corps of Engineers, but J.E. McAmis also does some large-scale private work. “Generally speaking, our work tends to be one-of-a-kind projects that require unique solutions. It’s not necessarily design-build, but we do work very closely with the project owner to determine the best way to execute a particular job. We don’t usually get work based on low bid; we get it because we’re the most qualified company to do the project, therefore our customers trust us to do it right. We’re very proud of our track record and the fact that previous clients never hesitate to call us back for their next job that requires our specific skill set.”