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That Sinking Feeling The Water’s Rising. The Island’s Subsiding. And Galveston Keeps on Building. [By FORREST WILDER Photos by DANIEL CARTER “People are not supposed to live on a sandbar, and the fact that they choose to live on this one tells you something about the collective psyche. These are people who like to be different, who see themselves as select, and maybe even a little invincible.” Gary Cartwright, Galveston: A History of the Island In 1528, Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca, shipwrecked and starving, with some of his men carving each other up for dinner, hit upon a name for the unforgiving sandbar on which they had landed. “We called it Malhado, the Island of Doom,” De Vaca wrote in La Relacion, his extraordinary travelogue. Though most of his fellow Spaniards died, de Vaca was not doomed. He managed to endure the privations of life in the digging for wild roots and befriending the natives. Nearly 500 years on, you won’t find the explorer’s gloomy appellationMalhadoin glossy brochures promoting Galveston, which was renamed in the early 19th century to pay homage to Bernardo de Galvez, a viceroy of New Spain who never set foot on the island. Instead, this 32-by-2 mile island lures tourists and residents with promises of sun and sand, shopping in the Victorian-era Strand district, and Schlitterbahn, an indoor water park. As one of the last affordable strips of coastal real estate left in the nation, developers have flocked to the island’s West End in recent years to erect pricey condominiums and second homes. Last March, thpITAV.. JilirrInk VorVitrzes pleased the local business community by dubbing Galveston the “Lone Star equivalent of the Hamptons.” But barrier islands have their own agenda. The sea is slowly, but inexorably, laying claim to this 5,500year-old island, nibbling at the beaches, drowning wetlands, and inching up the 17-foot high, 10-mile long seawall that protects the eastern third of the island. Texas has some of the highest rates of coastal erosion in the nation, and Galveston 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 2, 2007