The Interview: MAWSS Director Charles Hyland

The new Mobile Area Water and Sewer System director has been on the job for a year. Charles Hyland is not a newcomer to MAWSS; he’s worked there since 1988. Hyland recently shared about the challenges of his new job, including overseeing a $95 million budget and nearly 400 employees.

“The education that I got both in grade school at St. Mary’s and in high school at McGill-Toolen and in even in college; the teachers that I had challenged you. They challenged you to continue to learn, to take a chance and grow. You’re going to have to make some mistakes sometimes, but you can learn from those and move forward,” shared Hyland.

Hyland has learned a lot in his 25 plus years at Mobile Area Water and Sewer System. A year ago, the long time Mobile resident was appointed director of MAWSS.

Hyland’s first opportunity to manage a business, however, came while he was in college.

“The map company’s officials said, ‘We like the work you’ve been doing. Do you think you can run this office?’  And it was like a shot out of the blue, and so I wasn’t smart enough to say no, and I said, ‘Yes, sure I think I could run this office.’ I was probably 22 years old, and it was like ‘Whoa, I’m not sure I’m prepared for this!’ But, you know, I stepped off into that. I think that gave me confidence over the years to be able to tackle other challenges. You have to have that ability sometimes to step out there and say yes sure I can, I can do that. And then be smart enough to listen and learn and to ask for help,” stated Hyland.

After graduating from the University of South Alabama, Hyland got six years of experience at the Mobile County Health Department.

“I was very fortunate. The health officer believed in his administrative people getting a variety of experiences.  So I was able to move from one department to another. That helped develop some skills.   Number one: the willingness to get in and learn about things you don’t know. Number two: being able to work with a variety of people and to be able to listen and learn from what the people in those areas could convey to you,” remembered Hyland.

The health officer was James Fibbe. In 1987, Fibbe became the director of MAWSS.

“I came here after he had moved here. I came as the warehouse manager, and I enjoyed that a lot. I had worked with inventory controls in the past, but it was a challenge because it was learning a new set of products and a new set of materials. I was like most people before I came to work here you turn the faucet on and the water comes out and you flush the, the toilet and it goes away. It was exciting and probably that part may have been the most interesting,” said Hyland.

His opportunities for getting a variety of experiences continued at MAWSS.  As water and sewer administrator, Hyland managed seven different areas.

“Being able to work in different areas was definitely helpful in both developing skills and getting the type of experience that you need to be in a position like the Director where you’re looking at the, the big picture, you’re looking at, at everything overall,” stated Hyland.

Hyland’s experience also gives him personal insight to the water company’s challenges.

“An aging infrastructure, MAWSS has about 1,600 miles of waterline and about 1,400 miles of sewer lines.  We have two wastewater treatment plants, two water filtration plants as well as Big Creek pumping station.   All of these facilities are beginning, or are in some cases already showing their age. You can’t forget the existing infrastructure and it’s a challenge to be able to finance the replacement of that. We try to keep rates reasonable while you are getting the funding that you need to do capital improvement projects and to do capital replacement projects,” shared Hyland.

Protecting the 103 square mile Big Creek Lake Watershed also has a cost. MAWSS owns 9,000 acres of land around the lake.

“We are very blessed that we have an abundance of water and a great source of water here in this community.  We have to make sure that we’re protecting that watershed, not just on an individual basis, but to take a long term look at protecting the watershed, until it’s brought to people’s attention. They take a lot for granted. The need is to educate people. We’re trying to start people thinking about this at a very early age.  The idea there being hopefully you can cultivate more the understanding about how important it is both from a public health standpoint as well as a recreational or economic development standpoint.   We need to do more of that in the future,” stated Hyland.

Hyland is in his 26th year at MAWSS.

“I love it. It’s a real challenge though I will tell you that, but it’s been a lot of fun. I’m very fortunate to have good employees and a very supportive and helpful board. I’m really looking forward to continuing to move forward and to serve our customers. Because that’s what it’s about ultimately, is that we need to provide these services to our customers,” Hyland said.

Hyland is excitedly awaiting a comprehensive watershed management plan that may be finished by the end of this year. He believes it will give MAWSS an action plan or a blue print, to help protect the watershed from pipelines, railroad crossings, trains and other concerns. Hyland said the comprehensive plan is an important tool, as MAWSS works with elected officials to amend and improve federal regulations to keep our water safe.

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