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Underwater Visibility Leads to Above Ground Productivity on Port of Kalama Marine Project in Oregon

Wire crane dredge in port

Customer Profile: Portland, Oregon-based Advanced American Construction is full service general contractor providing heavy civil/marine, industrial, diving, underwater marine survey, demolition and engineering services to public and private clients throughout the western United States, with particular focus on the Columbia, Snake and Willamette River System. 

Business Challenge: Complete dredging, pile driving and dock construction in tight conditions.


  • 15-20% faster dredging than conventional methods
  • Improved pile driving accuracy (~2 inches)
  • More collaborative communication with owner
  • Efficient daily burn rate
  • New techniques—vibratory hammer

Clamshell dredge bucket full of material

Located 30 miles northwest of Portland, Oregon, the Port of Kalama sits on the Columbia River. The port’s industrial area includes five miles of riverfront property adjacent to the 43-foot federally maintained deep draft navigation channel of the Columbia River. Handling well over 13 million metric tons of bulk commodities, it’s one of the West’s largest bulk export gateways.

The marina includes permanent moorage slips, a two-lane boat launch and 140 feet of guest moorage. To meet growing demand, the Port of Kalama looked to build a new 550-foot-long guest dock, including utilities and new access gangways, on the east side of the Port of Kalama Marina. 

Heavy civil and marine construction specialists Advanced American Construction (AAC) was contracted to complete the project, which had three major components: marina dredging, pile driving (to support the dock) and dock construction. 

Evan Clemson, Vice President of Operations at AAC, said, “We realized before we bid the project that tracking in-progress dredge productions would be critical to the success of the project. We engaged Trimble Marine Dealer Measutronics to help us combine the best equipment, technology and workflow for success.”

It’s a partnership that translated into some surprising productivity benefits across the entire project. 

One Machine, Multiple Missions
The first phase of the project required dredging about 8,0800 cubic yards of material, which included sand, silt, gravel and boulders. AAC and Measutronics determined that a large excavator with a suspended pump and bucket, cutter and clamshell attachments would be sufficient to support dredging activities. 

“Everything underwater is a challenge—and there was a penalty for overdredging past a certain point,” explained Clemson. “We also needed to quantify the dredging totals, which required eyes under water.”

Measutronics recommended equipping the excavator with Trimble Marine Construction, a solution designed to optimize the productivity and efficiency of dredging and marine construction workflows, integrated with a single beam echo sounder (SBES) to acquire pre-/post-dredge survey data. The team also set up an SPS total station on the beach to support positioning. 

In advance of project go-ahead, Measutronics’ Nathan Keys, Construction Systems Specialist, trained the two operators from the local International Operating Engineers Union on the use of TMC software. 

“The entire team, from project manager to the craft level, want efficiency. Our operators, in particular, are very aligned with the benefits and use of this system,” confirmed Clemson.

With setup complete, the dredge operator was able to track the bucket location in real-time in 3D. At any time, the operator has a visual map of what’s been completed and what still needs to be done. 

“Poor choices in managing dredging quantities can raise daily burn rates significantly,” said Clemson. “Overall, we estimate that we saved 15-20% on the dredging phase of this project by having real-time underwater data versus old school methods of measuring and re-digging, revisiting incomplete areas, or overdredging in certain areas. That’s probably a six figure cost savings on a project this size.”

The underwater measurement and visualisation capabilities also minimized the need for divers to verify work completed and quantify production.

Pile Performance
Once dredging was complete, the crew needed to drive 252 piles to support the new dock. 

Clemson asked the Measutronics team if he could use Trimble Marine Construction solution on a vibratory hammer to better measure pile position accuracy for faster and more accurate piling. 

“Using conventional methods, we’re usually within 64-108 inches on a good day,” said Clemson. “We were shooting for a pile positioning accuracy of less than two inches. We were also faster. With the 3D data in the cab, the operator had a frame of reference underwater that provided greater confidence, which in turn drove efficiency.”  

The use of Trimble Marine Construction on a vibratory hammer is now an integral part of AAC’s technology toolbox. “We’re always excited to find new ways to use the Trimble systems to make us a better contractor,” added Clemson. 

Setting Benchmarks
Overall, AAC realized value across the project, from positioning the clamshell or bucket and real-time dredge quantities, to pile positioning.

“That’s all a big deal when working underwater, and for sure, the technology makes us more efficient. The lessons learned are also essential to our continuous improvement,” said Clemson.

As an example, dredge quantity measurement is a critical metric for AAC. “On every dredge project, we are very interested in how actual dredge quantities compare to our bid productivity estimates,” explained Clemson. “We’re always looking for a productivity rate at or better than our estimates—and on the Kalama project, we were very close.”

The dredge data provides a foundation for positive conversations with the owner when issues arise on the jobsite. He added, “When we came across an area with dredge quantities above our original estimates, we had real data to show the owner and discuss options.” 

The data from the Kalama project has also provided benchmark data about material quantities and operator production that will support future bids. 

“The efficiency that we saw in the various phases of work on this project clearly made the investment in the technology worthwhile,” said Clemson. “No doubt when we look at daily burn rate, we recouped the initial investment in the Trimble solutions in efficiency and productivity.”  

He also noted the value of having Measutronics on the team from the earliest days. “They are fantastic and have helped us on many of these projects over the years. We turn to them for solutions outside the box—and they’re very good at finding an answer.  I see a bright partnership in our future as we take on more challenging projects.”