Okinawa's governor has approved a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine base on the Japanese island.
Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima's decision Friday is a reversal of his pledge to move the base out of the Japanese island.
The project would involve land reclamation for a new base that would consolidate the U.S. presence on the island.
"We decided to approve the application for the landfill as we judged it contains all possible steps that could be taken at present to protect the environment," Nakaima said at a news conference in Naha, the prefectural capital.
About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are on Okinawa, and residents there have complained about base-related crime, noise and accidents.
Nakaima said that it would take an estimated 9 1/2 years to build the base, and he would continue to work to move the troops off Okinawa entirely.
"My thinking remains it would be fastest to relocate outside [Okinawa] prefecture to a place where there is already an airport," he said.
"The decision marks a major breakthrough in the stalled relocation of the base after years of political maneuvering due to stiff local opposition to a 1996 bilateral agreement with the United States to return the land to Japan."
The Washington Post notes that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a bid to persuade Nakaima to accept the relocation, offered "a major spending package aimed at infrastructure and development projects on the island."
Friday's decision has already met with protests from groups opposed to the U.S. presence on Okinawa — and vows of lawsuits challenging the move.
"What the governor has done is unforgivable," said Yuichi Higa, the head of the assembly in Nago city, where the new base is to be built. "Residents who are opposed will surely resort to the use of force, such as blocking roads to stop this from happening."
The comments were reported by The Associated Press.
As we reported last year, the U.S. and Japan reached an agreement to move about 9,000 Marines off Okinawa to Guam and other places in the Pacific. About 10,000 Marines are expected to remain.