TOKYO (AP) — The governor of Okinawa has signed off on the long-awaited relocation of a U.S. military base, a major step toward allowing the U.S. to move forward with plans to consolidate its troops on the southern Japanese islands and move some to Guam.

Japanese media reported Friday that Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved the Japanese government's application to reclaim land for a new base on Okinawa's coast. The base would replace the U.S. Marine Corps base in Futenma, a more congested part of Okinawa's main island.

Nakaima's decision could still face court challenges and protests. Opponents want the base moved off Okinawa completely.

The U.S. has had a major military presence in Okinawa dating from the end of World War II. About half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are based in Okinawa, and many residents complain about base-related crime, noise and the risk of accidents.

The new base would be built in an area called Henoko in Nago city. It is part of an agreement to move 9,000 Marines off Okinawa, including transferring 5,000 to Guam. The original agreement to close the Futenma base was signed in 1996, but it has been delayed repeatedly.