With the owners of the Chappaquiddick Ferry hoping to sell the franchise before their lease expires next year, the future of the tiny barge-like ferry that is the sole public transportation link to Chappy has become a heated subject for discussion and debate in recent weeks.

The privately-owned ferry service operates under a lease and license with the town of Edgartown. Ferry owners Peter Wells and Sally Snipes have indicated they would like someone else to buy it before their lease is up for renewal in 2023. But there has been disagreement among Chappaquiddickers over what comes next.

An investor group made up of Chappy residents recently drafted a proposal to buy the ferry, with an eye toward maintaining it as a public utility, much the same as now, except with a hired manager, a community advisory board and open financial books.

Another group of Chappaquiddick residents has criticized and opposed the investor group approach, proposing instead that the town buy the ferry.

The two concepts were recently circulated by the Chappaquiddick Island Association, which has taken no position on the matter. But after a contentious Zoom meeting last Thursday hosted by the Chappaquiddick steering committee, a town subcommittee formed in 2019 in response to concerns about ferry rate structures and other issues, the private investor group has put its draft proposal on hold.

“Given the opposition, we’ve decided to stand down and let Peter and Sally decide what they want to do next,” said Rick Schifter, a Chappaquiddick resident who heads the investor group and also the steering committee. “It’s easy for people to see something and say, ‘this isn’t what I want to happen’ — but now someone has to step up.”

The three-car ferry that plies the roughly 550-foot channel in the Edgartown harbor has long been privately owned but publicly regulated by the town. The town licenses the operation, has oversight over cash fares and holds a lease with the ferry owners, renewable every five years. Ms. Snipes and Mr. Wells have owned the ferry since 2008, when they bought it from former owner Roy Hayes for $3 million.

The meeting Thursday, attended by about 100 people, saw wide-ranging discussion about not only future ownership of the ferry but also the fairness of the rates, which are deeply discounted for year-round residents. There were also sharp concerns about conflict of interest, since Mr. Schifter heads both the steering committee and the investor group that has proposed buying the ferry.

Several who attended urged him to resign, a recording of the meeting shows.

“I want a process that is objective, clear-minded and effective to develop the proposal,” said Cary Brown. “The decision should be left to people with no conflicts of interest.”

Town administrator James Hagerty, who sits on the steering committee and attended the meeting, said the committee is only an advisory body, and the ultimate decisions will be left to the select board and town voters.

“There’s no conspiracy here,” Mr. Hagerty said.

Speaking to the Gazette last week, Mr. Hagerty said any sale of the ferry will see a thorough public airing once there is a concrete proposal for the town to consider.

“There is a public process that will take place,” he said.

Brooke Kushwaha contributed reporting.