With the release of the draft Massachusetts Ocean Plan two weeks ago, Islanders should be alert to a discussion now unfolding in the Island community about sand mining. The state plan, a huge document that encompasses everything from wind farm areas to delineations of habitats for sea birds, is a blueprint for ocean zoning that could have significant and far-reaching impacts on the Vineyard.

And there is good reason to be concerned about the plan’s proposal for a five-year pilot project to allow sand mining in designated areas off the north shore of the Island.

Massachusetts has long prohibited sand mining except in the rarest of instances, mostly out of concern for the state’s important fisheries. Now the state is proposing to loosen its policies under pressure from people who want to slow the inevitable process of erosion. State Coastal Zone Management Director Bruce Carlisle, speaking at a recent public hearing on the Vineyard, spoke to the state’s dilemma. “I want to be clear, we are trying to provide a balance here, because we hear things from both sides. We hear people saying they want sand, and we hear others saying no way, no how, get out of town,” he said.

Already, Islanders are taking sides. A handful of town leaders from Chilmark who attended last month’s public hearing, followed up with a letter to the CZM published in today’s edition, raised an alarm about the disruption to abundant sea life that lives on the bottom of Vineyard Sound.

Oak Bluffs appears to have quickly signed onto the idea of mining offshore sand for replenishing its beaches, some of which have been hit hard by erosion. The town reaction is understandable following the problems encountered last year with a renourishment project at Inkwell Beach that used dredge spoils. The sand turned out to be low quality and full of debris and the town was forced to remove it.

But town leaders should slow down before they sign on to a major change in state policy for the sake of one or two beaches. There may well be better, more localized solutions for Oak Bluffs that don’t open up a potentially vulnerable area on the other side of the Island to undersea mining.

More broadly, Islanders should take the time to weigh the short-term benefits of sand mining against a very expensive enterprise that may also risk long-term harm to the environment. Why is a practice that the state rejected to protect its fisheries more acceptable now that fish stocks are in dangerous decline? And how much are taxpayers really willing to pay to keep artificially replacing land that scientists agree will ultimately return to the sea?

In a commentary published this week in the New York Times that touched on the topic, John R. Gillis, a professor at Rutgers University, makes the case that sand itself is becoming an endangered resource. He argues that sand renourishment projects should be considered carefully on a case-by-case basis and suggests that better plans are needed for shoreline conservation.

Unlike states like Florida that spend mega millions each year on maintaining sandy beaches to bolster its tourist economy, Massachusetts and the Vineyard in particular are ahead of the game with a natural and relatively undeveloped shoreline, the result in part of forward-thinking zoning rules put in place beginning four decades ago. As erosion caused by climate change accelerates and with it the costs of trying to stem the tide, our historic focus on managing change to our coastline instead of trying to stop it will likely seem prescient.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission will host a public meeting on the subject of offshore sand mining next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the commission ofice in Oak Bluffs. The MVC can and should lead the way on better education and understanding of just how the Island could be affected.

We worry that the state, in a good-faith effort to balance opposing interests, have proposed a plan that simply takes a middle course —not the best one. We owe it to ourselves to give this important issue more study. And at this stage, unless and until we are satisfied it will cause no environmental harm, it sounds like a bad idea.