Sand mining was the talk of the town in at least four Island communities this week, as officials lined up on both sides of whether to support dredging for sand in waters off the Vineyard.

A public comment period on the state’s draft Ocean Plan ends Nov. 25, and Island towns have been formalizing their positions on the plan, which designates certain areas in Vineyard and Nantucket Sound as possible donor sites for beach nourishment projects.

Of all the issues addressed in the document, the topic of sand mining has been particularly polarizing on the Island.

At one pole stands Oak Bluffs, a town that would like to restore eroding beaches with dredge spoils. On the other stands the town of Chilmark, whose leaders have opposed sand mining due to concerns about its impact on offshore habitats and fisheries.

This week, two other towns sharpened their views on the issue.

The Aquinnah selectmen agreed to send the state a letter detailing environmental concerns about the practice. Tisbury selectmen joined them, agreeing to express concerns in writing that more research was needed to assess the impacts on sea life.

“The need for more research is really what it amounts to,” said Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg.

Oak Bluffs remains in support of the concept, but leaders in that town agreed to modify a letter sent to the state agency taking note of environmental concerns.

Town leaders said Oak Bluffs is starved for suitable sand to fill out the beaches and protect roads from storm damage.

In a wide-ranging discussion at the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, a central conflict emerged between a desire to replenish beach sand and an intent to preserve the ocean habitat.

Shellfish constable David Grunden spoke passionately in support of expanded dredging opportunities.

He said the town is limited in its response to growing concerns about erosion, as the Department of Environmental Protection strongly discourages armoring of the seashore with sea walls or revetments.

“As we know, Oak Bluffs is basically a peninsula and it’s exposed to northeasters and they are going to continue to pound our shorefront and there are important infrastructures in town that are very exposed,” he said. The shellfish constable said if the Oak Bluffs infrastructure was not imperiled as it is, he would feel differently about sand mining.

“I would be on the other side of this argument saying not to do it, but I live in the town, I work in the town, I see the trouble that our infrastructure is in,” he said. “We need to do something to protect it . . . I think this is an option that the town should look into.”

Others present at the meeting cautioned against sand mining, due to environmental concerns.

Chilmark selectman Warren Doty traveled down-Island to share his concerns that sea life could be endangered by dredging activity.

“Every time you go and collect the sand, you are disturbing the benthic environment that is at the base of a food chain,” Mr. Doty said. “I see it as a destructive activity for our environment.”

He said the largest areas designated for sand mining are between Makonikey and Cuttyhunk off the north shore of West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah.

“The idea that we are going to stand on Menemsha Beach and see some 180-foot dredge loading up barges that will then be hauled to Hyannis, that is just appalling to us,” he said.

Oak Bluffs selectman Gail Barmakian said the town had a definite need for sand, but she had some reservations about sand mining offshore.

“Once they do this mining they are not going to go back and we could ruin our fisheries,” she said. She also questioned whether Oak Bluffs would be able to afford a dredging project.

But her board remained firm in a commitment to exploring the possibility of mining offshore sand deposits.

“I think we still strongly believe in finding a solution to our problem,” said selectman Gregory A. Coogan. “We have filled this room a few times over with people who want our necks for our lack of attention to not just the beaches but also the infrastructure and the roads.”

Fred Hancock, a resident who represents the town on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, offered a compromise. He suggested that the town support sand mining within a three-mile limit of Oak Bluffs for use by that town only. “I don’t think any of us want to see a huge area opened up to provide sand for Hyannis and the rest of the Cape,” Mr. Hancock said.

Mr. Coogan translated. “In other words, we will use our sand, go find your own,” he said.

At meetings in other towns, officials rehashed a regional forum which was held to forge consensus among the Vineyard towns.

Until Tuesday, the town of Tisbury had not yet weighed in on sand mining and the Ocean Plan.

Selectman Melinda Loberg attended last week’s forum about sand mining, and relayed some of the information presented there.

“Both of the groups that were there, conch fishermen and fin fishermen, expressed a lot of concerns about the prospect, and their reasoning was because it could interrupt, destroy, really meddle with the egg laying and the juvenile growth,” she said. “On the other hand there is also the concern of Island towns with sea level rise, and a lot of erosion happening and the need for additional resources.”

The selectmen voted to draft a letter to submit as comment on the Ocean Plan.

In Aquinnah, officials spoke out against sand mining in waters off the coast of their town.

Selectman Juli Vanderhoop said any damage to the ocean floor would be “reprehensible,” and selectman Spencer Booker expressed concerns about disrupting the food chain, especially at the bottom of the ocean where microorganisms feed small fish.

Resident Megan Ottens-Sargent said she hoped the Island would be able to speak as one voice in opposition to sand mining near the Vineyard.

“It’s about working together,” she said.

Comments on the 2014 draft Ocean Plan are due by 5 p.m. on Nov. 25. Written comments should be sent to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, ATTN: Ocean Plan, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 800, Boston, MA 02114. Comments can also be sent by email to

Ivy Ashe and Alex Elvin contributed reporting.